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Commentary: Floyd vs. Lance heads to Colorado’s HIGH country

June 24, 2016 - 4:20pm

Imagine for a moment that you are Lance Armstrong.

To escape media lowlifes and other trolls, you buy a multi-million dollar house in Aspen, one of the world’s most exclusive rich-guy enclaves. When your reputation crumbles under USADA’s iron boot, you retreat to your mountain hideaway, knowing that your billionaire neighbors won’t give you crap when they see you at the local wine bar.

But oh, no… look who just moved to the neighboring town. It’s Floyd!

According to a recent press release, Kid Rock super fan Floyd Landis is just days away from opening a legal marijuana business in Leadville, which is located on the other side of Independence Pass from Aspen. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Colorado mountain towns, Aspen is to Brentwood as Leadville is to, well, Bakersfield. In Aspen, the preferred mode of transport is the Range Rover. In Leadville, it’s the pack burro.

But in the summer months, the road to tony Aspen goes right through gritty Leadville.

In terms of weird sports stories, this one is definitely the strangest of the week. America’s two ex-Tour de France champions will operate on either side of a mountain range.

One could write multiple books about Lance and Floyd’s complex relationship, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll reduce it down to a handful of snapshots. Stage 17, 2004 Tour de France, Floyd pulls Lance to victory. Stage 5, 2005 Tour de Georgia, Lance gloats on Brasstown Bald. Tour de France, 2005, Lance and Floyd shout at each other. Tour de France 2007, Floyd goes positive. April 2010, Floyd confesses to USA Cycling and implicates Lance. August 2012, Floyd gives USADA an affidavit. October, 2012, USADA’s reasoned decision. January 2013, Floyd launches his whistleblower lawsuit.

Landis poses in front of his business’ new sign. courtesy of Floyd’s of Leadville.

There are plenty of other important milestones from the Lance/Floyd history book, but I’m trying to keep this column short.

Floyd calls his business “Floyd’s of Leadville,” and he will apparently produce cannabis-infused products under the brand name, which he will sell at selected retailers across the state. He will source his marijuana from high-altitude growers. Floyd celebrated his new business with several pointed tweets.

Thank you to everyone for the support. I’m happy to finally be involved in a legitimate industry.

— Floyd (@FloydLeadville) June 24, 2016

Limited time offer: 15% discount if you show your USA Cycling license.

— Floyd (@FloydLeadville) June 24, 2016

For those of you who aren’t privy to the ins and outs of legal marijuana, here’s a quick explainer. In Colorado, cannabis-infused products are a growing segment of the state’s legal marijuana industry. Manufacturers use a CO2-based extraction method to strip Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from the marijuana plant. The THC-dense solution is then baked into food, sold as a wax, or synthesized into oil for handheld vaporizers. I know, it’s a strange new world.

Floyd has had a few start-and-stop businesses since he became America’s most famous PED whistleblower. In 2013 he launched a one-and-done Gran Fondo event in upstate New York. There were rumors that he wanted to drive NASCAR.

Since 2014, however, his name has only entered the press alongside his ongoing whistleblower case against Armstrong, which seeks to reclaim $100 million.

In the release, Landis said his new company as a producer of “premium products,” as well as a supporter of alternatives to addictive painkillers.

“I am really excited about this new phase of my life,” Landis said. “The cannabis industry is growing fast and I am fortunate to have this opportunity to play a role.”

Many cycling fans will never forgive Floyd for his doping, his coverup, or his bad, bad book, Positively False: The Real Story of How I won the Tour de France (get your copy now for just 1 cent!). There are others (myself included) who, after several years of soul-searching, have found a way to nudge Floyd onto the positive side of the good guy/bad guy divide. Had Floyd not come forward in 2010, would we know half of what we now know about cycling’s drug-fueled aughts? If Floyd never confessed, would fans, sponsors, and (gulp) magazines still be praying to the alter of Lance? We’ll never know.

Which brings us back to the weird geographic relationship.

So again, let’s say you’re Lance Armstrong. You just flew in to Denver, and you’re driving up to Aspen to spend your summer mountain biking, fly fishing, and sipping buttery chardonnay with venture capital bros. You used to take the private jet, but alas, times are tough.

As you drive through Leadville, you see the sign for Floyd’s legal weed company. Do you stop and ask for a free sample?

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WADA suspends Olympic testing lab in Rio

June 24, 2016 - 12:40pm

With just six weeks before the start of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the World Anti Doping Agency has shut down the laboratory that was to handle the games’ drug testing. In a statement issued by WADA, it was revealed that the Brazilian Doping Control Laboratory in Rio de Janeiro has been suspended due to “non-conformity” to WADA standards.

This is not the first offense for Brazil’s primary drug testing lab. In 2013 it was suspended for almost two years, and was only reinstated in 2015 after it carried out millions of dollars in retrofitting and renovations.

WADA head David Howman told the New Zealand website that he thought it was unlikely that the lab would be ready for the games. “This lab produced a whole list of false positives, and falsely accusing people is top of the pile of serious issues,” Howman said.

As a backup plan, WADA said it will transfer any samples at the lab to testing facilities outside of Brazil.

“In the meantime, WADA will work closely with the Rio Laboratory to resolve the identified issue,” said Olivier Niggli, Incoming Director General. “This will ensure that there are no gaps in the anti-doping sample analysis procedures; and that, the integrity of the samples is fully maintained,” he continued. “Athletes can have confidence that the suspension will only be lifted by WADA when the Laboratory is operating optimally; and that, the best solution will be put in place to ensure that sample analysis for the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games is robust.”


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Van Garderen: “It’s OK to hurt, but you gotta get on with life”

June 24, 2016 - 11:14am

Tejay van Garderen knew he was in trouble.

It was stage 6 of the Tour de Suisse and van Garderen (BMC Racing) had just descended Switzerland’s monstrous Klausenpass in a freezing rainstorm. He could not stop shivering. As the peloton rumbled toward the final climb to Amden, van Garderen stomped on the pedals, hoping to warm up.

“It felt like my legs weren’t even turning over,” van Garderen says. “I looked down and thought to myself, ‘These aren’t my legs — someone else’s legs are attached to my body.'”

As the group hit the climb, Van Garderen’s BMC teammate Darwin Atapuma accelerated at the front of the group containing the GC favorites. The surge put van Garderen over his limit, and he began to slip toward the back.

“I was telling [Atapumpa] to slow down but I don’t think he could understand,” van Garderen says. “Once I went over the limit I couldn’t get it back.”

Van Garderen arrived at the summit on Atapuma’s wheel, but he had lost two minutes to his rivals.

Twenty-four hours after his disastrous ride to Amden, van Garderen again rode uphill, this time along the 11 percent climb to the Rettenbach glacier above the Solden ski resort. To his surprise, he felt strong, so with five kilometers remaining, he attacked.

Van Garderen took the stage win — the biggest one-day result of his career — with a 15-second buffer on eventual GC winner Miguel Ángel López. After the stage, van Garderen’s confidence got another boost. During his attack, van Garderen says he assumed the other riders let him go. But he now sees it differently.

“When I watched the replay on TV, it’s not like they were sitting around, it looked like they really wanted to catch me,” van Garderen says.

Van Garderen showed his form on stage 7 of this year’s Tour de Suisse. TDS / © Tim De Waele

Tejay van Garderen’s best and worst moments from this year’s Tour de Suisse illustrate a pattern that American cycling fans have come to both loathe and love. Cheering for van Garderen is like walking an emotional tightrope between joy and utter despair. For every one of his lows, there’s an accompanying high.

Van Garderen’s fifth place finish at the 2012 Tour de France nabbed him the best young rider’s jersey and thrust him into the spotlight as America’s next great stage racer. Two years later, his fifth place finish in Paris was a welcomed result after he suffered through sickness and an untimely bonk in the Pyrenees.

Dominating performances at two USA Pro Challenges and one Amgen Tour of California round out van Garderen’s highest highs.

“I think it would be awkward if Sky hired Alberto Contador as a co-leader with Chris Froome. But me and Richie? It’s not that complicated.”

The lows? Losing the 2012 USA Pro Challenge by a handful of seconds after leading for much of the race. A disastrous 2013 Tour de France, punctuated by a gut-wrenching near miss at l’Alpe d’Huez. The worst, of course, comes from last year’s Tour. After defending a podium position through the first two weeks of the Tour, van Garderen caught a virus on the second rest day and abandoned while sitting in third place overall.

After each of his ups and downs, BMC’s leadership has always backed van Garderen.

“He doesn’t need to prove himself,” said Jim Ochowicz, BMC’s general manager, during the 2015 Tour de France. “He’s matured, he’s not overreacting to situations that happen every day, and he’s leading the team.”

Fans and cycling analysts have not been so kind. The inconsistency has led some fans to criticize van Garderen’s mental fortitude and toughness. After he pulled out of the Tour, van Garderen’s name sparked a lively thread on the social news networking service Reddit that went on for 70 comments. “Well, he is predictable in that he always [expletive] up one stage in every tour,” reads one comment.

Van Garderen ignores the criticism, and instead says he’s working to improve his consistency. “The one thing I still need to do is eliminate those bad stages,” he says.

Whether van Garderen can string together 23 good days this July is perhaps the most compelling storyline of this year’s Tour de France. Now 27, van Garderen is no longer an up-and-comer, but rather a veteran who is in the prime of his career. After his recent decision to skip the Olympics due to fears of the Zika virus, van Garderen’s sole focus is this year’s Tour. And, perhaps most importantly, he’s no longer BMC’s only card to play at the race.

Van Garderen and his new team co-leader Richie Porte have known each other since 2010. The two live near each other in Southern France.
Equipe Ploeg /(c)Tim De Waele

The buzz surrounding BMC Racing all year has been van Garderen’s newfound co-leadership with Australian Richie Porte. When the team hired Porte last summer, critics saw the move as a de facto demotion for van Garderen. Others saw BMC’s one-two punch as a puzzling structure. Van Garderen says his co-leadership with Porte is hardly strange, since neither rider has ever considered the other to be a rival.

“I think it would be awkward if Sky hired Alberto Contador as a co-leader with Chris Froome,” van Garderen says. “But me and Richie? Neither one of us has won a grand tour. It’s not that complicated.”

Instead, van Garderen and Porte have been friendly since 2010, when both men turned professional. When each of them switched teams in 2011, van Garderen says, Porte told him he was signing with Sky, and asked van Garderen to also join the British team. These days, Porte and van Garderen live near each other in Southern France. This winter, the two completed long training sessions together, spending hours talking about wives, kids, cars, and even training.

“Richie likes to spend hours on the bike and to not really be told how to train,” van Garderen says. “I was surprised. Coming from Sky, I assumed he was going to be really analytical and into the numbers game.”

The two also talked about their co-leadership roles at BMC. Van Garderen and Porte both excel at time trials and climbing, but their riding styles differ greatly. Porte has the punch to accelerate alongside Froome and Contador, while van Garderen can often be distanced by quick attacks. Van Garderen, however, can generate huge watts on long, crushing climbs, which is the type of terrain where Porte has shown himself to falter.

And in the upcoming Tour, where Froome will be challenged by Nairo Quintana, Contador, and Fabio Aru, van Garderen says BMC’s one-two punch could be an advantage.

“It’s going to be the other guys’ responsibility to set the pace on the climbs and dictate the tactics, so Richie and I can play off of them,” van Garderen says. “It’s not like one of us is setting the pace for the other.”

Van Garderen has said his abandonment of the 2015 Tour de France due to a virus was the lowest moment of his professional career. ©Tim De Waele

The Tour is van Garderen’s only focus this summer, now that he’s decided to skip the Olympics due to Brazil’s ongoing Zika virus epidemic. Research on the virus has confirmed its danger to unborn babies. Van Garderen’s wife, Jessica, is currently pregnant with the couple’s second child. Van Garderen represented the United States in London, but says the fact that he already attended a Games did not weigh into his decision.

“It wasn’t an easy decision because the course is really suitable to me,” van Garderen says. “The more articles we read about Zika, nothing was putting my mind at ease.”

“The one thing I still need to do is eliminate those bad stages.”

The importance of this year’s Tour inevitably shifts the focus back onto last year’s calamitous DNF, which van Garderen says was the worst moment of his career. It took several weeks to mentally rebound from the disappointment, he says, and he tried to learn from his failure to finish the race.

“I’ve become a germ freak and I have hand sanitizers everywhere,” van Garderen says. “I’ve started fist-bumping people instead of shaking hands, because each of those people has probably shaken the hands of 100 people.”

As for how van Garderen processed the disaster emotionally, he says he simply got over it. “It’s OK to hurt, but after a while you gotta quit your bitching and get on with life,” van Garderen says. “I still have a contract with a team. I’m still a bike racer. I’m still a husband and a dad. It’s time to get some results.”

His longtime friend and BMC teammate Taylor Phinney says van Garderen often keeps his emotional cards close to his chest. While other riders look to friends and teammates for an psychological boost, van Garderen keeps to himself. “Tejay doesn’t really lean on people to help him deal with his disappointments,” Phinney says. “He’s his own psychologist, and I think he has found a way to digest his own stuff.”

And perhaps that’s the best way forward. After all, van Garderen wasn’t that far from achieving his goals at last year’s Tour, or at this year’s Tour de Suisse. In Phinney’s eyes, it’s not worth dwelling on the disasters, when you consider the fact that Tejay van Garderen almost finished on the podium at the Tour de France.

“He got two weeks into the Tour and he got sick — but it’s like, damn, he was right there,” Phinney says. “You showed the world that you’re a real contender.”

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Carter Jones will retire in July

June 24, 2016 - 7:48am

American Carter Jones (Giant – Alpecin) will retire at the end of July to pursue a career off the bike.

The decision comes after a second bad crash in as many years, which forced the 27-year-old to rethink his future as a professional.

“It is a personal decision related to two accidents, one last year and one recently, and I am now ready to move on to the next step in my life,” Jones said. “I have to thank my family for expecting me to complete my college education before fully pursuing a cycling career.”

Jones is the second American to retire from Giant-Alpecin mid-season, a month after Caleb Fairly hung up his wheels in California. Giant-Alpecin “respects the decision and offers its full support and cooperation,” the team said in a statement.

Jones holds degrees in integrative physiology and sociology from the University of Colorado. He hopes to pursue a career in sports marketing and event production.

A win at the Tour of the Gila and the climbers jersey at the Amgen Tour of California in 2014 set Jones on a course for the WorldTour. He finished 14th overall at the USA Pro Challenge the same year, and signed with Giant-Alpecin for 2015.

“Carter has been a valuable member of the team, and we respect his decision,” said coach Rudi Kemna. “Carter’s dedication and professionalism cannot be faulted, and it has been a pleasure to have worked with him. We want to thank Carter for his commitment to the team, and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

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Explainer: ASO wins again in latest reform agreement

June 24, 2016 - 7:42am

Thursday’s announcement of a detente between the UCI and cycling’s most powerful player was big news short on detail.

Reading between the lines, it was easy to see that the Amaury Sports Organisation (owners of Tour de France and a large chunk of the WorldTour calendar) came up the big winner.

The long-running effort to “reform” elite men’s cycling has been watered down so much that its latest incarnation is little more than status quo on how elite men’s professional cycling looks today. Anyone hoping for a major restructuring of the sport will be disappointed. There are no permanent licenses for teams looking to create NFL-style franchises. There is no streamlined racing calendar without overlapping races. No new rights for teams or racers. And certainly no restructuring of the economic model, and sharing of TV rights and other revenue streams.

The agreement approved by the UCI’s Professional Cycling Council averts a potentially disastrous “war,” but at a relatively high cost to teams and even the UCI itself. ASO comes out even stronger, with its position at the top of the sport more consolidated.

Here is a quick explainer of the key points of the agreement, and what it means for teams, the UCI, ASO, and fans:

What does this agreement do?
In the short-term, it avoids the immediate threat of a permanent break between ASO and the UCI. There are several key points. First, it maintains, and expands the WorldTour calendar, with the presence of all of ASO’s events. That right there is huge, especially in light of ASO’s threat to pull its races out of the WorldTour. Another key point is that it also trims the WorldTour league to 16 teams by 2018, and also creates a “challenge” system in that the top-ranked second-tier team bounces up to the WorldTour, and the bottom-ranked WorldTour team drops down. The more radical ideas in the initial reform were already long off the table. This is “reform light,” with ASO coming up aces.

Who wins?
ASO is the clear winner here. The French company gets largely what it wanted, and sees a tighter grip over its catalogue of races. (ASO’s portfolio includes the Tour de France, Vuelta a España, Paris-Nice, Critérium du Dauphiné, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Paris-Roubaix, Arctic Race of Norway, Worlds Ports Classic, and Tour of Yorkshire, among others, and has links to the Amgen Tour of California, Santos Tour Down Under, and the Tours of Oman and Qatar). The agreement gives nothing away, other than agreeing to continue to allow the WorldTour-level teams entry into all of its races and for ASO to remain under the guise of the UCI. With this agreement, ASO effectively neutralizes all threats to its monopoly-like control of its races. After all, ASO is a private, for-profit business, and with this deal, it will continue to operate that way unchallenged.

What does the UCI gain?
The UCI can take satisfaction in that it avoids a costly and potentially disastrous stalemate or even a split with ASO. New races will be added to the WorldTour calendar (no official list yet, but likely the Amgen Tour of California, a new Tour of Germany, perhaps one or two of the Middle East races, and some key European events). The biggest surprise is the inclusion of a “challenge” system.

Who loses?
From the teams’ perspective, they do. Under the latest agreement, teams are guaranteed two-year licenses through 2018, and even if a team is relegated in the first challenge season going into 2019, it will have a “soft landing” and be allowed to race in all WorldTour events. That means today’s top teams will have, according to Thursday’s announcement, “stability for the three seasons from 2017 to 2019.” Teams certainly won’t be happy about that clever wording, however. Teams quietly sense they’ve been sold out, and as one team manager posted on Twitter, “business interests and entrenchment of monopoly won out over athletes’ rights and team stability.”

Why cap at 16 teams?
Another major point is to cap the WorldTour-level teams at 16 by 2018. That’s down from the original idea of 20 teams initially floated a decade ago when the “ProTour wars” started with then-UCI president Hein Verbruggen. The number of 16 also reflects the economic reality that it’s more difficult to find sponsors to pony up at least $15 million per season to underwrite a title sponsorship of a major team. (Teams will argue the current structure undercuts their ability to engage long-term sponsors). With such teams as IAM Cycling and Tinkoff folding at the end of this season, and other teams barely hanging on, it could prove difficult to keep the WorldTour at its current level of 18 without eroding the quality and depth of the “super-league” concept, at least how the sport is being run now. Sixteen teams also gives race organizers plenty of room for wild-card invitations, opens up more space for new team structures to have entrée to the sport, and provides some wiggle room on reducing the size of the peloton for safety reasons.

What does the “challenge system” mean?
The details will be flushed out about points allocations and rankings, but this is another major coup for ASO. It’s been one of their sticking points for years. In their view, permanent licenses block future investment in the sport from new sponsors (an idea that teams vigorously renounce), but that rationale is also a backhanded way of clipping the wings of stronger unity among teams. How it even got into the final agreement remains unclear, but for the WorldTour teams, the idea of relegation is nothing short of a disaster. It not only means it cannot guarantee its sponsors a place at the top races over the long-term, but it also sets up the nightmare scenario of having one bad season presenting a risk to a sponsorship deal. More than anything, teams want stability, and relegation/promotion is the antithesis of that. An argument can be made that a challenge system could pump a new dimension into the racing season. Much like in European soccer leagues, teams at the back-end of the standings always have something to fight for in order to remain in the top tier. The news must certainly be a delight to Gianni Savio, the veteran Italian manager whose teams are always near the top of the pro-continental standings. Many say the same concept cannot be fairly applied to an endurance sport prone to injuries and illnesses. Critics say look no further to the season-threatening crash involving Giant-Alpecin this winter during a training ride. A half dozen riders were sidelined, and it could have been even worse, yet the incident had nothing to do with performance. Could a team be relegated due to injuries and illnesses to a few key riders? The rules are still to be determined, but the prospect of delegation is maddening to team owners. Teams will be under the gun to race for points, putting riders under all kinds of pressure to perform, and potentially open the boogieman of doping yet again.

Why doesn’t the UCI stand up more?
It can’t. This latest round of negotiations is another reminder of just how little real power the UCI wields. Despite its role as an international governing body, the UCI has little leverage over large private interests such as ASO. Cycling’s organic roots that date back a century manifest themselves in odd ways. Every time the UCI has tried to create something new, ASO has simply threatened to walk away. It played the same tactic with the ProTour concept a decade ago. The only real card the UCI can play is that it could revoke athletes’ Olympic status if ASO did pull its properties, but that would punish athletes, not the backers of a breakaway league. The UCI has little recourse than to govern by consensus, and that means largely singing to the tune of ASO’s demands.

Why does ASO want to stay within the UCI anyway?
From ASO’s perspective, the UCI provides a lot of worthy services, especially with the implementation of rules, regulations, doping controls, and administration within the sport. ASO doesn’t want to walk away entirely, because it would have to assume many of those costly responsibilities if it created a breakaway league or tried to operate under a European calendar. ASO isn’t opposed to the UCI as an institution, but rather is opposed to what it views as over-reach and threat to its business model and profits.

What about riders?
In the short-term, they won’t be impacted. For better or worse, riders operate under a free-market system with limited regulation, and this agreement does nothing to change that (no salary caps, no increased minimum wage). There are no new guarantees for riders, but there are no limits, either. Top riders will continue to draw big-money contracts, so long as the sponsorship is there to support ever-growing salary demands. Lower-level riders and domestiques, however, are getting pinched as top stars take ever-larger chunks of team salaries. Most contracts are still only for one or two seasons for the majority of racers. Riders are starting to flex their collective muscles, however, and are pushing hard on such issues as rider safety and weather protocols. Some believe that the real game-changer could come some day if riders collectively threaten to act as a group. This agreement does little to alter the landscape from a riders’ perspective.

What changes will the fans see?
From the outside, almost none at all. There will be no disruption to the racing calendar, in fact, it will be expanded, which is good for anyone wanting to watch top-level pro racing. The behind-the-scenes tug-of-war between race organizers, teams, and the UCI of who controls the money in sport remains a simmering issue, but beyond a few headlines and intrigue for fans of “inside baseball,” the season’s major races will roll on.

So what’s the takeaway?
The UCI averts a disastrous split with ASO, and takes some satisfaction in expanding the WorldTour calendar. The latest round of negotiations staved off disaster, but also at a certain cost. The last thing the UCI wants is a war with ASO, but its negotiating position could be weakened in the future, and the UCI will see an erosion of its credibility among teams. For ASO, its monopoly-like hold on its racing properties remains unchallenged, so this is nothing short of a major coup. ASO gains a lot, including its cherished notion of promotion/relegation, and gives almost nothing away. The latest compromise further weakens the teams’ position, and riders remain largely at the whims of the marketplace. The ultimate takeaway? Business as usual, with ASO stronger than ever before.

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Contador out of Spanish nationals with illness

June 24, 2016 - 7:18am

MADRID (AFP) — Tour de France hopeful Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) has pulled out of this weekend’s Spanish road race championships citing health concerns just a week ahead of the start of cycling’s top tour.

“Hello everyone! I’m sorry to say that because of health concerns I won’t be taking part in the nationals this weekend (Saturday). I hope it’s a good race,” the double Tour de France winner Contador said via Twitter on Friday.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) are among the big names lined up to take part.

On Thursday, Movistar’s Ion Izagirre won the Spanish national time trial beating teammate Jonathan Castroviejo by 22 seconds, while Valverde was third three seconds further back to give Movstar a podium sweep.

The Tour de France 2016 starts July 2 from Mont Saint Michel, where Contador will lead the Tinkoff team, before he represents Spain at the Rio Olympic Games.

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Don’t call it a comeback: France is back on top

June 24, 2016 - 6:53am

Before Arnaud Démare could make the U-turn back toward the podium, pundits and fans alike were already tying the weights around the ankles of his Milano-Sanremo win. “Gaviria would have won if he hadn’t crashed.” “Sagan would have won if Gaviria hadn’t crashed.” “The course isn’t difficult enough to weed out pretenders.” And, inevitably, the old reliable, “Is he worthy?”

Worthiness is a usefully subjective measure, a rhetorical tool deployed against unpopular wins by upstart, unknown, or disliked riders.

Is Démare worthy? The 24-year-old sprinter from Picardie is no grand champion, not yet on the level of recent Sanremo winners like Eric Zabel, Mario Cipollini, or Oscar Freire, much less the giants of the road who preceded them. His palmares has grown mostly by winning stages of weeklong races held in his backyard, in the flats of Northern France and neighboring Belgium. But he’s also finished third in a Tour de France stage, behind Marcel Kittel and Alexander Kristoff, and second behind John Degenkolb and ahead of Peter Sagan at last year’s Gent-Wevelgem. Until that day in Sanremo, however, he had not quite broken through.

Over the last few decades, cycling has developed a special lens through which it views French success.

Objectively, though, Démare’s Via Roma victory was sound, particularly in the context of a chaotic crapshoot of a finale that closed this and many other editions of Sanremo. Michal Kwiatkowski’s attacks did not drop him on the way up the Poggio, and three of the sport’s most fearsome descenders — Vincenzo Nibali, Fabian Cancellara, and Sagan — didn’t unhitch him on the way down. He didn’t crash inside the red kite like Colombian sensation Fernando Gaviria, nor get caught up in the aftermath like Sagan and Cancellara. He positioned himself perfectly to launch a long drag to the line, playing to his strength.

So why wouldn’t Démare be worthy? There were rumblings from Italian riders that he held onto a team car up the Cipressa, but that complaint emerged only after the initial pooh-poohing of his victory and came to nothing. Is he not a big enough champion for such a prize? Not yet, but how are big champions made if not by winning big races? Maybe the problem, then, is that he’s just too … French?

Over the last few decades, cycling has developed a special lens through which it views French success. A 217-kilometer break-away to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen? If Jens Voigt had done it in 2014, it would have birthed Internet memes and a rush order of celebratory T-shirts. When Jacky Durand actually succeeded in doing it in 1992? That was a mathematical and tactical error by the favorites, not a well-executed escape by two of the peloton’s long-raid specialists, Durand and Thomas Wegmüller. Nothing more than a lucky roll of the dice by a Frenchman whose luck held out long enough to also win Paris-Tours, a couple of French national championships, a few Tour stages, and a yellow jersey.

And what about Thomas Voeckler’s 20 days in the golden tunic? Just attention-whoring opportunism by a no-hoper who grabs the spotlight before the real contenders come out to play. Fabian Cancellara’s 29 yellow jerseys? Those are shrewd pieces of tactical riding by a true pro who seizes every opportunity to race aggressively and fly the colors. Never mind that Voeckler has won four Tour stages and the polka dot jersey, finished fourth on GC in 2011, and won a handful of stage races and semi-classics.

Three years after Voeckler’s fourth place, Frenchmen Jean-Christophe Péraud and Thibaut Pinot both made it onto the box. Yet the first French podium presence since 1997 was framed mostly by absence. Yes, the French were there, but Froome and Contador had crashed out, and Quintana didn’t start. Two DNFs and a DNS managed to elbow the Frenchmen from the photo.

So it goes for the French, seemingly stuck in the lovable loser role, results be damned. The 30-year drought of Tour de France wins hangs like an albatross around the neck of the French peloton, with its last champion, Bernard Hinault, giving it a tug now and then to make sure the rope holds fast.

With the French filter removed, however, Démare’s Sanremo win looks more like a breakthrough than a fluke. At 24, Démare is just coming into his prime, and a big win was a logical next step for a rider with a U23 world title to his name and progressive results since he joined the WorldTour ranks at the age of 19. He followed up his Sanremo with fifth place at Gent-Wevelgem, winning the field sprint. A tough rider without the outright speed of a Gaviria, Cavendish, or Kittel, Démare could ultimately turn in his finest performances in the classics.

He hasn’t been FDJ’s only bright spot this season. At Critérium International, Pinot, still only 25, won the time trial to take the leader’s jersey, then broke away alone on the race’s mountainous final stage to seal the overall victory.

France’s other 25-year-old GC hopeful, Ag2r-La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet, finished second to Vincenzo Nibali at the Tour of Oman and showcased his versatility in the process. He was third amongst the rouleurs and classics specialists on the third stage, then finished second to Nibali on the queen stage to consolidate his podium spot.

So it goes for the French, seemingly stuck in the loveable loser role, results be damned.

While Pinot and Bardet can hope for high GC placings in the Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour, France’s best hopes for outright wins could come in the sprints. Cofidis’s Nacer Bouhanni, another 25-year-old, opened his 2016 account with a stage win at the Vuelta a Andalucía before his pugilistic sprinting put him in the headlines at Paris-Nice. He crossed the line first in the stage 1 sprint but was relegated to third for nearly putting prologue winner Michael Matthews into the barriers. (The stage win passed to Démare.)

Two days later, Bouhanni bounced back with a convincing — and clean — win in stage 3 to Romans-sur-Isère, beating Edward Theuns, André Greipel, Alexander Kristoff, and Matthews in the process. He followed up with two wins at Catalunya before finishing a strong fourth behind Démare at Sanremo, where a chain skip ended his shot at the win.

Beyond the crop of 25-year-olds now in the spotlight, more talent is flowing through the pipeline. Direct Energie’s Bryan Coquard, 23, barely missed at the semi-classic Dwars door Vlaanderen when he began to celebrate too early. Ag2r’s Alexis Gougeard, also 23, finished a promising fifth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad before illness sank the rest of his classics campaign.

Is French cycling poised to return to its heights of the early 1980s? No. There is not yet a French Boonen or Cancellara in the wings, ready to dominate the classics. And in the era of Froome and Quintana, it is hard to envision an end to the French Tour-win drought quite yet. But the beginnings of a revival are there. The new class is winning, not just on the French circuit but on the international stage against top competition. Results beget results. And sooner or later, if those results continue to mount, they will have to be accepted for what they are: credible wins by young riders from one of the sport’s most storied nations.

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Haute Route Rockies Journal: So not pro

June 23, 2016 - 6:59pm

Ever since I watched a grainy ESPN recap of a Tour de France stage in the late 1990s, I wondered what it would be like to ride in a pro race, to be in the peloton. I bet you have too — that might be why you read VeloNews (and hopefully we scratch that itch). The Mavic Haute Route Rockies, other Haute Route events, and the myriad sportives and gran fondos help amateurs like you and I get a taste of racing, especially when it comes to multi-day rides, with consecutive 100-mile days over serious mountains. We can come close to the feeling of a pro race, but really, it’s not the same.

More from Mavic Haute Route Rockies When we wake up at five in the morning, there’s no team director expecting someone to ride into the day’s breakaway. And I should also add that, for better or for worse, there aren’t fans lining the roadway to see us roll past. That’s why the pro races start later, after all, because it’s hard enough to get up that early to ride a bike, let alone spectate.

Along the way, there’s a chance you’ll get dropped on a climb, just like the pros. Though they’ll often form a grupetto for the sprinters, plenty of solid riders get dropped for good and time cut in major races. Not here — there’s almost always a group behind to cruise with. You can still have a good time on a bad day.

And what happens when you cross the line after getting dropped like that? Will a nosy reporter from some cycling website (ahem) shove a mic in front of your face and demand an explanation: “Are you still the team’s leader?” “Can you attack tomorrow?” “Will this affect your contract?” Nope. Usually, we come home to one of the helpful event staff, who shoves a Coke or a sandwich into your hands, requiring no explanation at all.

These seven days of riding are giving me a much deeper appreciation for what pro cyclists do, because this week has been really hard as-is. I can’t imagine how much more demanding it would be as a true race, where your livelihood depends on the outcome.

Follow VeloNews on Snapchat and Instagram for more updates from the Mavic Haute Route Rockies.

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Degenkolb, Barguil, Dumoulin headline Giant Tour squad

June 23, 2016 - 2:40pm

Giant – Alpecin announced a nine-man Tour de France roster Thrusday that should allow the German squad to contend on a variety of stages in July, with a potential general classification contender making the start as well.

Now several months removed from the training crash that derailed his early-season ambitions, John Degenkolb will lead the team in the sprints. The speedy classics star has never won a stage in the race, but counts five career runner-up stage placings across his three previous Tour de France appearances.

Simon Geschke, who nabbed an emotional stage win at the 2015 Tour, is another option in the battle for stages, particularly on the days that prove a bit too hilly for Degenkolb.

24-year-old Frenchman Warren Barguil will lead the team’s GC campaign. He made his Tour debut last year, finishing 14th overall in Paris, and will make the start fresh off a podium performance at the Tour de Suisse.

According to a team release, Barguil won’t need to worry about any GC leadership questions despite the presence of Tom Dumoulin — the versatile Dutchman is headed to France with stage wins on his mind. Preparation for the upcoming Rio Olympics is his main objective in racing the Tour next month.

Giant – Alpecin for the Tour de France

Warren Barguil (FRA)
Roy Curvers (NED)
John Degenkolb (GER)
Tom Dumoulin (NED)
Simon Geschke (GER)
Georg Preidler (AUT)
Laurens ten Dam (NED)
Ramon Sinkeldam (NED)
Albert Timmer (NED)

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ASO and UCI come to terms, averting 2017 crisis

June 23, 2016 - 1:59pm

Cycling’s international governing body, the UCI, and its most powerful race organizer, the ASO, came to an agreement Wednesday that will avoid what could have been a very messy separation in 2017.

At a meeting of the Professional Cycling Council in Geneva, Switzerland, the sport’s major stakeholders hashed out a plan for reforms agreed to by both the ASO and the UCI, as well as approving a WorldTour calendar for the coming season.

The ASO had threatened to pull races from its coveted portfolio — among them, the Tour de France — off the WorldTour, but according to a UCI press release, all existing WorldTour events will remain on the top-tier calendar for 2017. That includes ASO properties.

The WorldTour will also see an influx of new events next year, with an announcement on the full calendar to come shortly.

“This marks another important step in the reform of men’s professional cycling, and I am very pleased that we now have our stakeholders behind what represents the future of our sport,” said UCI president Brian Cookson in the announcement.

“I am delighted that we can build on the heritage and prestige of the UCI WorldTour, while also welcoming newer but already successful events taking place in and outside Europe. We are committed to continuing the consultation with all stakeholders on various details of the reform.”

Wednesday’s agreement also contains new provisions for a slightly altered approach to team designations. “WorldTeams,” the squads currently competing at the highest level, will receive two-year licenses for 2017 and 2018, with a plan to ultimately reduce the current total of 17 teams to a permanent 16-team baseline. A new “annual challenge system” will create the framework for relegation and promotion within the top tier.

“From the end of the 2018 season onwards, there will be an annual challenge system, based on an overall annual sporting classification, between the last ranked UCI WorldTeam and the top Pro Continental Team to enter as a UCI WorldTeam in the following season,” the UCI said in its statement. “In the event that a UCI WorldTeam drops out of the top tier, that team will have the right to participate in all the following season’s UCI WorldTour events, meaning that UCI WorldTeams will have stability for the three seasons 2017 to 2019.”

For 2017, all existing WorldTour events will require the participation of all WorldTeams, while the Professional Cycling Council plans to agree on rules at its next meeting to ensure the participation of a minimum of 10 WorldTeams per new event.

“I am delighted that an agreement could be found that will help the sport of cycling as a whole,” said Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France and president of the AIOCC, the International Association of Race Organizers.

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U.S. unveils final Olympic squads

June 23, 2016 - 1:59pm

USA Cycling has announced its final team for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where it will hang its medal hopes on a pair of world-beating women’s squads, one in the team pursuit and a second in the road and time trial events.

“We have very good teams, and we’re confident,” said Jim Miller, USA Cycling’s head of athletics. “We’ve been working towards this Olympic games for eight years, we have very experienced coaches, very experienced staff. Everybody has been to the games before, everyone knows the drill.”

The U.S. women’s team pursuit team won a world championship this spring, overhauling Canada in the gold medal round. The women’s road squad will be led by Megan Guarnier, who currently leads the UCI Women’s WorldTour. She will be backed up by veteran Olympians Kristin Armstrong and Evelyn Stevens, as well as by Olympic newcomer Mara Abbott.

Armstrong heads to Rio to defend her London gold in the individual time trial, as well as to act as support in the road race.

Also heading to Rio with a shot at a medal are Vermont native Lea Davison, who has been racing at the front of the women’s cross country mountain bike circuit, and Taylor Phinney, who was fourth in both the time trial and road race at the London games.

Women’s road

Megan Guarnier (Queensbury, N.Y./Boels Dolmans Cycling Team) – Road race
Mara Abbott (Boulder, Colo/Wiggle High5) – Road race
Kristin Armstrong (Boise, Idaho/TWENTY16 p/b SHO-AIR) – Road race and TT
Evelyn Stevens (San Francisco, Calif/Boels Dolmans Cycling Team) – Road race and TT

The U.S. women’s team is among the strongest in the world and will be led in the road race by the current Women’s WorldTour leader Guarnier. She’ll ride alongside one of the world’s best climbers, Giro Rosa winner Mara Abbott, as well as two-time Olympic time trial gold medal winner Kristin Armstrong and current hour record holder Evelyn Stevens.

Given the firepower, the American team’s shot at a medal is almost as high as it is for the women’s team pursuit. “If we race it correctly, I think there might only be one medal left on the table,” Miller said.

The team has been built around Guarnier, who was the only automatic selection. Miller said the team has multiple options. “Megan can make the first group of climbers, and she’s the best sprinter of that group,” Miller said. “If it’s hard enough [the rest] have to chase. That probably eliminates Lizzie [Armistead]. She’s a phenomenal bike racer but has a tough time hanging with the real climbers.”

Miller declined to discuss tactics for the race, but did note that Abbott’s presence will provide the team with tactical options for the long, steep climb the comes just 12 kilometers from the finish line at Fort Copacabana.

Armstrong and Stevens will race the individual time trial, where Armstrong is defending champion.

Men’s road

Brent Bookwalter (Asheville, N.C./BMC Racing Team) – Road race and TT
Taylor Phinney (Boulder, Colo./BMC Racing Team) – Road race and TT Track

Phinney came back from London with a pair of fourth places finishes, so there’s no question he’s medal capable. “If Phinney has a great day, he can ride a top 5 on this course,” Miller said. “Perfect day, he can get a medal.”

Women’s track

Kelly Catlin (Arden Hills, Minn./NorthStar Development) — Women’s Team Pursuit
Chloe Dygert (Brownsburg, Ind./TWENTY16 p/b SHO-AIR) — Women’s Team Pursuit
Sarah Hammer (Colorado Springs, Colo.) — Women’s Omnium*, Women’s Team Pursuit
Jennifer Valente (San Diego, Calif./TWENTY16 p/b SHO-AIR) — Women’s Team Pursuit
Ruth Winder (Lafayette, Calif./UnitedHealthcare) — Women’s Team Pursuit

The world championship bands on the women’s team pursuit skinsuits will surely provide confidence heading into the Olympic games, as will their new left-side drive Felt pursuit bike. The team will be dissapointed with anything but gold.

Men’s track

Matt Baranoski (Perkasie, Pa./Custom Velo) — Men’s Keirin
Bobby Lea (Mertztown, Pa./Custom Velo) — Men’s Omnium

Don’t underestimate Matt Baranoski, Miller said. The Keirin is unpredictable, and the Pennsylvania native has proven his ability to make finals at the highest level.

“Here’s the thing about men’s Keirin in the Olympic games: It’s a very small field, it’s easier to get through the preliminary rounds into the round of six,” Miller said. “Matt’s already shown in multiple world cups that he’s a talented guy. I wouldn’t put a ton of expectation on him for that, I don’t think it’s out of the question that he pulls something out.”

Mountain bike

Lea Davison (Jericho, Vt./Specialized Factory Racing)
Howard Grotts (Durango, Colo./Specialized Factory Racing)
Chloe Woodruff (Prescott, Ariz./Team Stan’s NoTubes-Pivot)

On the dirt, Davison is the America’s best shot at a medal. The 33-year-old finished 11th in London and has only improved in the last four years.

“Lea is very capable of riding on the podium. She’s shown she’s very consistent,” Miller said. “She has slow builds to her season, but they’re methodical. Where some will try two peaks, she does one. We always wonder where she is early in the season, then at worlds she’s on. She’ll be flying in Rio.”

Grotts, just 23, won his first pro national title in 2015. Rio will be his first Olympic Games.


Brooke Crain (Visalia, Calif./Haro Bikes-Dans Comp)
Connor Fields (Henderson, Nev./Chase BMX-Monster Energy)
Nic Long (Lakeside, Calif./Haro Bikes-Dans Comp)
Alise Post (Chula Vista, Calif./Redline USA)
Corben Sharrah (Tucson, Ariz./Daylight Cycle Co.)

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Good, Bad, and Ugly: National champion kit designs gallery

June 23, 2016 - 1:16pm

This weekend, Europe’s best cyclists will battle it out in their various national championship events. What’s at stake? A chance to wear a national championship kit at the Tour de France. Over the years, these kits have ranged from the great, to the good, to the downright bizarre. Above, we’ve compiled a collection of our best (and worst) in national championship kits.

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Analysis: To crack ‘Fortress Froome’ will require something extraordinary

June 23, 2016 - 7:13am

In order to beat Chris Froome at the Tour de France, rivals have to isolate him, attack him, and then drop him. That’s a very tall order, one that is made even more complicated by the almost-frightening depth and experience Team Sky brings to France next week.

Flanked by powerful cobble-bashers on the flats, and swarmed by agile climbers when the road tilts up, two-time Tour champ Froome will start with the confidence of knowing he has a huge advantage against rival teams trying to take his Tour crown.

Most of the major teams have already revealed their Tour lineups, and though everyone is still waiting to see whom Movistar and Tinkoff brings, Sky is looking stronger than ever. To beat Froome, his rivals will have punch through a “Fortress Froome” that looks all but impenetrable.

“We have selected a talented group of riders with Chris as the leader once again. I know they will do everything they can to help him try to win yellow,” said Sky principal Dave Brailsford. “Every Tour is different, so that means choosing the team we believe is best-equipped to deal with the many different challenges of this race.”

Now 31, Froome undoubtedly sees his strongest Tour team ever. A quick glance at whom Sky left at home — Nicolas Roche, Michal Kwiatkowski, Leopold König, and Peter Kennaugh — confirms just how good this team is.

In what must be daunting to his rivals, “Fortress Froome” reveals no soft underbelly or a hint of a crack along its exterior.

No chinks in the armor
Sky brings brawn and experience for every facet of the race. On the flats, Froome can count on Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Vasil Kiryienka. The best place to avoid the costly crashes that can wipe out a year’s worth of work in an instant is at the front of the race, and the confirmed classics specialists have the muscle to fight for position to keep Froome in the safest position at every moment of every stage. Kiryienka is a beast of a rider who is capable of pulling in every scenario. A veteran of 15 grand tours, and part of Froome’s first win in 2013, his work during last week’s Tour de Suisse was beyond words.

The prospects are even more frightening in the mountains, where Sky brings five top-flight climbers who not only throttle Froome’s rivals, but perhaps even challenge them for the final podium in Paris. These riders would be leaders on any other team.

Once again, Sky tapped into its rich seam of Hispanic climbing talent its been mining over the past several years. Mikel Landa and Mikel Nieve, two Basque climbers from the steep hills of northern Spain, and Colombian Sergio Henao, making his Tour debut, will be setting a brutal pace on all the key climbs. It will be interesting to see if Sky doles out the work load, perhaps saving one or two these riders from any hard work until going into the final brutal week.

Behind these “three amigos,” there’s Wout Poels, who continues to evolve into a champion in his own right. After a hot spring that included victories at the Vuelta a Valencia and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the big Dutchman will be standing tall for Froome, going deep into the hardest climbs to chase down any would-be aggression.

Filling the hole of the departure of key helper Richie Porte (now a principal rival at BMC Racing) will be Geraint Thomas. Though he didn’t look at his sharpest at the Tour de Suisse, Thomas will be a versatile all-rounder who will be at Froome’s side at every step of the race. Now focused on stage racing, Sky will save Thomas for the most decisive moments, keeping his powder dry for the most critical moments, and perhaps even pushing him high in the GC.

And the man himself? After eking out an economical, very tactical victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June against Contador and Porte, Froome also looks like the best version we’ve seen yet for July.

“I feel in good shape coming into the race this year, and am fortunate to have a strong team around me,” Froome said. “This year, I am hungrier than ever for success.”

In short, Froome sees his strongest, deepest and most experienced team he’s ever seen at the Tour. Add the fact that there is a longer time trial back in the Tour menu this year, Froome is the five-star favorite to win a third yellow jersey.

Teams must constantly chip away
To get to Froome, teams will have to take it to Sky right from the beginning of the race, trying to provoke echelons, and setting a high tempo with aggressive racing in the transition stages in the first week simply to tire the legs of his supporters. Once into the mountains, teams know they cannot wait until the final climb. Rivals will have be tactically aggressive, and perhaps even take high-risk, long-range attacks (something teams are loathe to do at the Tour) to try to disrupt Sky’s rhythm, and expose cracks early in Froome’s flanks.

Which teams have the firepower to do it? Froome’s top four rivals — Movistar, Tinkoff, Astana and BMC Racing — bring equally impressive teams to the fray.

On paper, Movistar has similar firepower to Sky. Though it hasn’t confirmed its Tour Nine, team captain Nairo Quintana will see impressive help on the flats from Jonathan Castroviejo, Imanol Erviti and Fran Ventoso (one of Quintana’s trusted allies), and then in the mountains, he will count on Dani Moreno, Ion Izagirre, Jesus Herrada, Winner Anacona, and Alejandro Valverde. Last year, Movistar was the only team strong enough to unmask Froome, and attack him one-on-one. Quintana’s three-surge attack on Alpe d’Huez — with Anacona waiting up the road and Valverde countering late — is a playbook on how to get to Froome. Two early accelerations by Quintana put Froome’s goons into the red, and then a final acceleration shed everyone except Porte. It was the Tour’s final climb, and Froome was nursing a minor chest cold as well as a comfortable lead, but Quintana and Movistar take confidence from last year’s Tour. Sky certainly has taken lessons as well, and that’s why Froome keeps insisting he’s been on a slow boil in the first half of 2016 in order to hit top form for the final week of the Tour. Twice runner-up to Froome, Quintana believes his “sueño amarillo” is closer than ever to coming true, but he will need to get to Froome earlier in this Tour than he did last year if he seriously hopes to win.

Tinkoff always bring a solid team to the Tour, but the bigger question mark is Contador himself. Despite taking an early lead at the Dauphiné, Contador couldn’t fend off Froome, who methodically dismantled the veteran Spaniard via positioning and a few pointed attacks. Contador will stubbornly attack during the Tour, and Froome is loathe to give Contador any serious rope (he’s learned how hard it is to take back time from their battles in the Vuelta a España), but so far, it seems Contador simply cannot match Froome’s unrelenting rhythm in the decisive climbing stages in July. Contador’s bested Froome at the Vuelta, but he’s never done it when it counts at the Tour. At 33, this could be Contador’s final serious challenge for the Tour, so maybe he will be willing to risk everything rather than race conservatively. If anyone can do it, Contador is the rider who could be the big disrupting factor in Sky’s playbook.

Astana brings Fabio Aru as its leader in what is his Tour de France debut. The precocious Italian is quickly building an impressive grand tour record (never worse than fifth since his Giro debut in 2013), and last year, he came close to the Giro-Vuelta double as runner-up at the Giro and winner at the Vuelta. The Tour, however, is another kettle of fish. Despite one stage win, he was the Dauphiné’s nowhere man, and will be under huge pressure to consistently match his more experienced rivals in the 24-7 pressure-cooker of the Tour. He will be backed by enviable support, including Jacob Fuglsang and 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali. Aru packs plenty of self-confidence, and he’s proven a dangerous rivals in the climbs. A win seems like a stretch.

And finally there’s Porte, the Tour’s great unknown who is at the center of the powerful BMC Racing team. One of the few squads that knows what it takes to win the Tour, BMC is spreading its bets between Porte and Tejay van Garderen. Neither has been able to deliver in the Tour. On paper, van Garderen’s two fifth-places are better than Porte’s track record, but there’s a sense that Porte could be Froome’s top challenger, especially if Quintana somehow goes off the rails. The scrappy Tasmanian largely matched Froome at the Dauphiné, and as a close friend and former teammate, he might have the key to get inside “Fortress Froome.”

In the Tour, the strongest rider almost always wins, but having a near-impenetrable wall around you certainly helps. That certainly doesn’t mean it will be a cakewalk, and the Dauphiné proved that the competition is tighter than ever, but someone will have to do something extraordinary to beat back Team Sky and take down Froome during the 2016 Tour.

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The Tour’s secret is in its intimacy

June 23, 2016 - 6:46am

A young boy in yellow shorts and a yellow cap wanders with his parents through a still-empty square. He waves a flag of red dots on white. His name is Thibaut, just like his favorite French rider, Thibaut Pinot. “J’ai six ans,” he says, holding up six fingers. He has come to Livarot for the seventh stage of the 2015 Tour from his hometown, Vimoutiers, six kilometers to the south, in the back seat of his parent’s silver Renault. He carries a small autograph book filled with the faces of his heroes, but no autographs yet.

At every hotel within 100 kilometers, the sleeping Tour de France is just beginning to wake. The fatigued tingle of six stages and nearly 1,000 kilometers of racing stirs 195 pairs of lean legs. Pinot’s are among them. His, like everyone else’s, have been honed for months, years, for these three weeks in July. There will be innumerable more violent bursts of speed and soul-emptying efforts over intimidating mountain ranges to come. Every movement is deliberate, calculated. Nothing extraneous can occur.

Each morning in July, a new sleepy French town is transformed.

Not far away, a few hundred members of the press shake off last night’s red wine. The TV men begin to unwrap 10 kilometers of cables that will have to be wrapped up 10 hours later. The drivers of the 22 team buses fill up until the pumps won’t give any more, hundreds of liters and thousands of dollars to be burned away. A TV commentator has his morning tea, preparing his voice for another bout with the microphone. Millions of fans plan their day around his television coverage.

Each morning in July, a new sleepy French town is transformed. Shiny plastic signs that magically appeared in the night point to Départ, the start line, and to Village du Tour de France, where riders will take their last-minute coffee break. Long strings of triangular flags, green and yellow and polka dotted, crisscross between buildings. Shop windows overflow with spray-painted yellow bicycles, probably stored in a shed since the last time the Tour came through. Shopkeepers put out signs that say, bienvenue, cyclistes! In the air is the sort of calm that comes only before a storm.

A Tour de France morning builds slowly. Fans walk toward the start line from the out-skirts. Men in green shirts direct the early traffic as others in black and red uniforms zip-tie banners to fencing. The village begins to fill with dignitaries: Bernard Hinault and Raymond Poulidor, then Christian Prudhomme, the Tour’s director.

Little Thibaut has never seen the Tour before. His family sets up a short distance from the sign-in stage, beneath a shade tree. In three hours, each rider will glide past Thibaut’s position and climb cleat-footed up eight steps to the sign-in board. Thibaut will reach his hands out as they ride past, waving his book and a thick pen. He’ll try to get them to stop.

It’s 9:30 a.m., two and a half hours until rollout, and the square is beginning to fill, first with noise. The announcer’s opening words are a welcome, and he won’t stop talking for half a day. For 40 years it was the voice of Daniel Mangeas that enlivened a new quiet French square each morning. This year a new man has taken over; his voice is melodic but is in some way less comfortable than the old one.

A din begins some 500 meters west of the square. Horns blare, and the faint beats of European pop music begin. Thibaut does not know it yet, but the Tour de France’s mighty caravan is coming.

The parade, 30 minutes long, begins with a lion — a massive plaster version of sponsor LCL Bank’s feline mascot, stuck on top of a glorified go-kart. A man in aviator goggles sits in an open cockpit at its crotch. By the end of July, he’ll spend 3,500 kilometers in there. When asked if it’s difficult, he grimaces and says, “I eat many bugs.”

The lion sets Thibaut’s eyes wide.

Inside the publicity caravan is a fleet of tiny Citroëns older than any rider in the race. Done up in the red and white tablecloth checkers of packaged sausage company Cochonou, they carry people hired to throw bite-size meat products out the windows to eager fans. Children dart for each prize, and grown men prove they are still children, too.

Bannette covers small hatchbacks in fake baguettes. It’s a very French form of camouflage. Vittel, a bottled water company, straps dashing young men and women to red trucks filled with water and tasks them with pressure-washing the crowd, even when it’s raining. An enormous yellow cyclist that appears to be made of sturdy papier-mâché sinks the rear suspension of a Volkswagen Beetle to the wheel wells. Far behind the flotilla of Cochonou Citroëns is a float dedicated to some sort of laundry detergent. It’s covered in blue ribbons and simulated bubbles and has a half-naked man strung up at its center. He dances like nobody’s watching, though everyone is.

Thibaut has, by the final float, amassed a haul of trinkets and sausage that would be the envy of any dollar store. He holds it up like it’s a gold miner’s haul.

The Tour de France is a circus the size of a city and a parade 3,500 kilometers long. It has 4,000 accredited press and a thousand vehicles and hundreds of millions watching on TV. Viewed from above it is almost immeasurably huge. Sign-in begins as a trickle and ends as a flood. The crowd doesn’t even notice the first rider pass by until he’s standing behind the clear board. His form is strikingly different from the mortals around him. Those are not thighs, they’re haunches. It’s a body honed down to its most basic elements. No more than is necessary, and no less. A momentary hush descends on the hundreds who surround the stage. He waves, a big hand on a thin arm. Thibaut, his hand stuck through the fencing with a big pen, waves back. The rider steps off the podium, stops 10 feet away, signs a few hats, and then disappears. To Thibaut’s great disappointment, no autograph.

Thibaut’s low-angle arm waving is proving ineffective. His father picks him up and puts his feet on a rung of the fencing, so that his face is above handlebar level. He replaces the pen in his outstretched hand with his autograph book, which is larger and louder. It’s all about choosing the right lure.

The teams pile up below the stage in a mass of color. A few riders make their way into the Village, grab a small and quite terrible coffee and pick up a copy of L’Equipe to read about themselves. A few more wander the edges of the crowd. Thibaut snags a few for his book: Jérémy Roy of FDJ and Koen de Kort of Giant – Alpecin. Five minutes to the start.

Pinot rests 10 feet off the back of the field with one foot clipped in, his thigh on his top tube and forearms leaning on the top of his handlebars in cycling’s classic casual stance. Little Thibaut yells to big Thibaut. “S’il vous plait monsieur!” Pinot looks over, smiles, and waves.

The starter’s gun fires. Pinot rolls off. The click of 190 pedals is how a bike race says goodbye.

There is no sorrow on the face of little Thibaut, even as his pen and book fall to his sides. He got a wave, and a smile. “We’ll get him at the finish,” his father says. Thibaut is on top of the world.

Perhaps you wonder why the Tour is Le Tour, why it sits a tier above the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España and every other bike race on the planet. The best bike racers in the world are here, in their best form of the year; the Alps are inspiring; the Pyrenees are dramatic; the heat of the Massif Central is so vivid it feels alive; Paris is the center of the world. The Tour de France is a circus the size of a city and a parade 3,500 kilometers long. It has 4,000 accredited press and a thousand vehicles and hundreds of millions watching on TV. Viewed from above it is almost immeasurably huge. It’s the spectacle that makes the Tour, it would seem. It’s the combined excitement of a million Thibauts, and it’s the enthusiasm of just one.

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Haute Route Rockies Journal: Four surprises

June 23, 2016 - 6:35am

You won’t be shocked to read that climbing to over 12,000 feet above sea level is hard. And yeah, waking up at 5 a.m. is a bummer when the hotel coffee isn’t up to snuff. So, here are four tidbits from the Mavic Haute Route Rockies test event that might come as surprises. We are five stages into the Colorado ride, and I’ll admit, for the most part, these are things I didn’t anticipate.

1. Beware the valleys

Of course, the precipitous, switchback-laden heart of a major climb is fearsome. That’s the maw of the tiger, an obvious challenge, but you have to watch out for that beast’s claws as well: the long, grinding valley road to reach the climb proper. Though the valley road’s average gradient is modest, it’s usually a long slog into a headwind. I now know not to underestimate these seemingly benign approaches.
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2. Sleeping is almost as hard as riding

We’ve been lodged in mostly high-altitude towns so far, save Boulder, our start town, and believe it or not, it’s actually hard to get good rest after a long day of riding. It’s almost like the body is leery of sleep in such an oxygen-deprived state, that it’s afraid you won’t wake up again. A lot of us have been tossing and turning, wishing we could get that sleep we need.

3. “The Crank” was right

I thought I was so cool, showing up with fresh white bar tape in Boulder last Saturday. Our regular magazine columnist and snob mechanic, Daimo Shanks, warned against the evils of white bar tape (and everything else white) in a recent issue of VeloNews. After spending another 100-mile day staring at gross, grimy handlebars, I regret to inform you that he was correct.

4. It gets easier

I can’t speak for everyone on the ride, but after the third stage, I felt like I was turning a corner. Sure enough, Wednesday’s big ride, which reached the tour’s highest point, over 12,000 feet, was hard, but not unreasonable. The miles are ticking by faster; I feel comfortable on the bike, and between the good company and stunning scenery, motivation is not in short supply.

Follow VeloNews on Snapchat and Instagram for more updates from the Mavic Haute Route Rockies.

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BMC’s Tour squad includes van Garderen, Porte, Bookwalter

June 22, 2016 - 12:21pm

Team BMC Racing will enter the Tour de France with a squad of climbers, stage hunters, and flat-stage specialists who will ride in support of team leaders Tejay van Garderen and Richie Porte.

On Wednesday the team unveiled its nine-man Tour squad, which is comprised of Marcus Burghardt, Damiano Caruso, Rohan Dennis, Amael Moinard, Michael Schar, Greg Van Avermaet, Brent Bookwalter and co-team leaders van Garderen and Porte.

“We have a diverse group of riders, from seven different nationalities, all of whom will play their role,” said Sports Director Yvon Ledanois in a release.

Ledanois said Van Avermaet and Dennis will go for stage wins, while Burghardt and Schar will protect the team leaders on the flat stages, Ledanois said. Bookwalter, Caruso, and Moinard will help BMC in the mountains.

Porte will act as the team’s road captain, said team general manager Jim Ochowicz. The team’s riders, however, will give equal support to both Porte and van Garderen.

“Richie and Tejay will both receive equal support from the staff and riders within the team structure during the race itself,” Ochowicz said.



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Talansky will skip Tour due to poor spring and “personal issue”

June 22, 2016 - 12:12pm

American Andrew Talansky will not ride in the upcoming Tour de France, his Cannondale team said in a release. Instead, Talansky will focus on the Vuelta a España.

Talansky, 27, recently finished fifth at the Tour de Suisse after riding as high as second in the general classification. In the release, Talansky cited bad health during the spring, as well as an unnamed “family crisis” for his decision to skip the Tour.

“It was not always the plan to skip the Tour,” Talansky said. “I had a very personal issue — you could call it a family crisis — in February, shortly after arriving to Europe. It was a very traumatic and difficult few weeks, and it basically meant that for three weeks the bike was the last thing I was thinking about. Family always comes first.”

Talansky suffered through a forgettable spring, which saw him crash at Paris-Nice and then fall ill. Over the next few weeks, Cannondale’s medical staff performed a sinus scan, which showed blockage and chronic inflammation, he said. He also went on an antibiotic cycle in April, which left him unable to race or train at his highest level. During that time, Talansky said, he decided to target the Vuelta a España instead of the Tour de France.

Talansky rebounded from the bad spring at the Amgen Tour of California, where he finished fourth overall. He followed up that performance with a strong ride at the Tour de Suisse. Despite the result, Talansky said, he decided to maintain his focus on the Vuelta.

“While I was able to race well in Suisse, I was still not at my best – I was lacking the foundation that a solid spring of racing and training provide,” Talansky said.

Team owner Jonathan Vaughters said Talansky is still not at his best, and said the rider has hit “a bump” in his career. The team, however, has re-signed Talansky. Details of the contract were not available.

“Rather than rush him into the Tour based on the Suisse result, it’s best to allow him to target the Vuelta and ride for the podium there now that his sinus issues have cleared up,” Vaughters said. “The Vuelta always gets a few extra contenders from the Tour de France fallout, but we know Andrew can do well in Spain.”

Cannondale has not announced its Tour de France roster, but Talansky’s absence will likely shift the team’s general classification hopes onto Frenchman Pierre Rolland. Rolland also struggled to grab results in the spring, but appears to be coming into form for the Tour de France. He finished 15th at the Tour of Romandie in May and recently finished 10th at the Criterium du Dauphine.



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Tour rookie Groenewegen to sprint for LottoNL in France

June 22, 2016 - 7:56am

PARIS (AFP) — Dutch cycling team LottoNL – Jumbo is betting on sprinter Dylan Groenewegen at the 2016 Tour de France after Robert Gesink was involved in a heavy fall last week.

Senior rider Gesink has failed to get over his crash at the Tour de Suisse, Lotto NL said Wednesday. Groenewegen, a 23-year-old Dutchman, was named to the team in his place.

“This will be good for his development, although we hadn’t been considering giving him his Tour debut just yet,” said team manager Nico Verhoeven.

“We’d like to win a stage on this Tour however,” said Verhoeven, who hinted his strongest chance of that might be climber Wilco Kelderman.

Lotto NL – Jumbo for the Tour de France

George Bennett (NZL)
Dylan Groenewegen (NED)
Wilco Kelderman (NED)
Bert-Jan Lindeman (NED)
Paul Martens (GER)
Timo Roosen (NED)
Sep Vanmarcke (BEL)
Robert Wagner (GER)
Maarten Wynants (BEL)

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