Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Five Big Stories to Watch During the Tour

Can Chris Froome claim his fourth Tour de France yellow jersey? Photo: BrakeThrough Media
There’s never a shortage of drama on the Tour de France. Something “big” happens every day. Whether it’s a crash, a race-altering attack, or post-stage polemics, the Tour is always packed with more storylines than any race on the calendar.

That’s no surprise. The stakes are incredibly elevated for riders and teams. Everyone brings their A-game to France. The Tour is the one race of the season when every rider is at their absolute peak fitness. That compounding pressure makes the Tour de France such compelling viewing. Coming into the 104th edition of the Tour, there are enough plot lines to fill a novel. Here are five big stories we’ll be watching this month:

1. Froome’s quest

There’s no bigger story this year than Chris Froome’s run for a fourth overall Tour crown. The GC battle is always the central focus of any Tour. This year’s fight for the yellow jersey should be compelling on several levels.

Team Sky has dominated the Tour de France like no other squad in a generation. The UK team has won four of the past five yellow jerseys on the trot, and Froome enters this year’s Tour hoping to claim his fourth within five years. No rider’s won four Tours without winning a record-tying fifth. Can he do it?

Despite telltale signs at last month’s Critérium du Dauphiné that Froome might be off his best form, the Kenya-born star will line up as the man to beat. What’s in Froome’s favor? A few key points: Alberto Contador is the only other former Tour winner in the race. Froome’s experience gives him an incalculable advantage over his rivals. Second, “Fortress Froome” looks as strong as ever. For rivals to even get close enough to take a shot at Froome, they have to battle through a wall that includes Sergio Henao, Michal Kwiatkowski, Mikel Landa, and Geraint Thomas. And finally, Sky and Froome have consistently demonstrated they are able to tweak their approach to fit the demands of each year’s Tour route. Last year, Froome’s ambush attacks on the flats and on the descents knocked his rivals off-balance. They’ll surely have a few surprises up their sleeves again this year.

What could derail Froome? A few things. Like in 2014, perhaps a crash, or an illness will see him exit early. Some suggest that a growing media storm surrounding Team Sky and links to triamcinolone could knock Froome off-balance, but that’s unlikely. Froome has deftly handled the pressure and innuendo that comes with the yellow jersey. Since he’s not been caught up in the Fancy Bears leaks controversy, it’s unlikely to faze him much. Winless so far in 2017, Froome doesn’t bring that same aura of invincibility into the Tour. Froome will also face his deepest field of rivals yet. So to pull off another Tour win, Froome will have to be at his most nimble and aggressive.

Few can take on Froome one-on-one, but with an unconventional Tour course on tap, rivals must be ready to lay a trap to try to surprise Froome (similar to last year’s ambush that cost him the Vuelta a España). To beat Froome, a rival might have to be willing to lose to win. That’s a big ask, but this year’s GC battle has the potential to be the most fascinating in the past few editions.

2. The Sagan show

Peter Sagan’s stage 5 victory was his 14 stage win at the Tour de Suisse. Photo: Tim De Waele |
Whether he’s popping wheelies, stomping the competition, or producing Sagan-rich moments (when is the next video, Peter?), the Saganator is the best thing to happen to cycling in a generation.

This year’s Tour provides a wide-open canvas for Sagan to continue his emergence as cycling’s transcendent star. The two-time world champion packs the on-the-road chops and the post-race charisma to draw in mainstream sport fans. With plenty of opportunities for sprints, at least eight if not more, this year should be even better for Sagan’s growing legions of fans.

Last year, Sagan won three stages, and finished in the top-six in seven others. That’s Merckxian by any measure. And with Sagan poised to tie Erik Zabel’s record of six green jerseys, the Slovakian superstar (and soon-to-be father) will be a delight to watch before, during and after each day in the Tour.

Get the popcorn ready, kids, the Sagan Show is about to begin.

3. Nairo’s double

Photo: Tim De Waele |
Another big talking point will be the most audacious bet in 2017. Nairo Quintana came within 31 seconds of pulling off the first half of the Giro-Tour double. There’s sure to be a lot of chatter about whether the Colombian’s gamble on cycling’s double was boom or bust. No one’s managed to pull off one of cycling’s most elusive achievements since Marco Pantani in 1998. Alberto Contador last tried it in 2015. He ran out of gas after going deep to win the pink jersey, racing to fifth in the Tour.

There will be huge pressure on Quintana to follow through in July. Just imagine if Froome crashes out — like he did in 2014, the same year Movistar sent Quintana to the Giro — and Quintana doesn’t have the legs to take advantage of the opening. Or the recriminations if Froome falters, but a “fresh” rider who didn’t race the Giro, like Richie Porte or Romain Bardet blasts into the yellow jersey instead.

However, another strong showing by Quintana would go a long way toward proving that a modern-era Giro-Tour double could be a realistic goal. There are already rumors flying around that Froome will attempt the Giro-Tour double, or even try to race all three grand tours in the same season. Quintana and Movistar deserve plaudits for daring. The idea that second place in the Giro is viewed as a disappointment reveals much about Quintana’s stature in the peloton.

4. Merckx’s record

Mark Cavendish collected his fourth stage win of the 2016 Tour de France on Saturday. Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media |
Stricken by Epstein-Barr all season, Mark Cavendish confirmed Monday he would race. Why is the proud Cavendish starting when he knows he’s far from his best? The allure of Eddy Merckx’s all-time stage-win record.

Though he regularly talks down the Merckx record, Cavendish wants it bad. Already with 30 stage wins on his palmares, cycling’s most prolific sprinter will roll into the Tour far from ideal conditions. With only four days of racing since mid-March, Cavendish is struggling to overcome glandular fever that derailed much of his 2017 season. Cavendish confirmed his professionalism and love for the Tour by committing to race. He’s proven time and again he can win even when he’s not at his best. This year could be even more challenging for Cavendish to claw closer to Merckx’s mark.

This year’s sprint field looks as deep as at any time since Cavendish has emerged as the peloton’s preeminent sprinter in 2009. Along with familiar foes, such as André Greipel, Sagan, Alexander Kristoff, and Marcel Kittel, there’s a band of young, ambitious sprinters coming up. Those include Arnaud Démare, Nacer Bouhanni, and Michael Matthews.

At 32, is time running out for Cavendish’s quest for the record? Fernando Gaviria, who won four stages in his grand tour debut at the Giro d’Italia last month, set to race the Tour next year, will only make things more complicated in the future. If Cavendish could squeeze a stage win or two out of this year’s Tour, the Merckx mark could be within his grasp.

5. Safety worries

Contested on the open road, pro cycling is subject to increasing worries about the threat of terrorism. Photo: Matthew Beaudin

Security questions both on and off the bike will be a hot talking point throughout this Tour. The UCI and ASO are under pressure to develop safer race conditions. No one wants to see another debacle like last year’s Mont Ventoux amateur hour.

It’s the safety concerns away from the race that have many more worried in France this summer. No one likes to speak about the vulnerability of an event as sprawling and wide open as bike race. Behind the scenes, French authorities are taking steps to try to make the area around a bike race as safe as possible. Expect to see more police and more controls along the route and at the start and finish areas.

Several high-profile attacks over the past months in France and across Europe have heightened worries coming into the Tour. Let’s hope this is one story that no one will be talking about.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Demare Tunes Up for Tour de France with Halle Ingooigem Win

FDJ sprinter claims seventh victory of the season

Arnaud Demare (FDJ) takes the spring (Getty Images Sport)

A confidence boosting win at Halle Ingooigem just over a week out from the Tour de France has Arnaud Démare confident of breaking through for a debut stage win. The FDJ fastman Démare took the win ahead of Belgians Edward Theuns and Iljo Keisse. Démare's seventh win of the season ensures he is the form French sprinter of the moment and a favourite to add to his 2013 French road title this Sunday in Saint-Omer.

Having ridden the Giro d'Italia in support of Thibaut Pinot, who finished fourth overall, FDJ's Tour de France ambitions are built around Démare's sprint train and quest for stage wins with the 25-year-old looking likely to repay the faith placed in him this July.

In 2017, Démare has taken wins at Etoile de Bessèges, Paris-Nice, 4 Jours de Dunkerque, Critérium du Dauphiné and the GP Denain. While Démare is in form, he explained the win was nevertheless important psychologically ahead of the French nationals and next week's Tour having only finished with two teammates.

"The day was very hot, we knew we would be attacked a lot and on the circuit I had only two riders. We got a little bit lost and then Olivier [le Gac] and Mika [Mickaël Delage] did a good job," Démare said. "I'm happy to win. I feel that the legs are turning well since the Critérium du Dauphiné. Halle-Ingooigem is a race that I like to prepare for the French championships. In Saint-Omer it will be a race for the sprinters and I know it will be difficult. And then the Tour de France is very important for us."

FDJ's directeur sportif sportif Frédéric Guesdon echoed Démare's comments, explaining the win bodes well for the next two major goals.

"We were one of only two sprint teams, Lotto-Soudal and us. Quickly we controlled the race and so it was on us," Guesdon said. "It was a demanding race with the heat. The Belgian team upped the tempo 80 kilometres from the finish so we responded, but we also used a lot of energy. Marc Sarreau was not very good but he rode a lot. Jacopo Guarnieri had a rather complicated week due to his wife's birth and he suffered from cramps but he did his job as well."

Démare's best season to date came in 2014 when he won 15 races. He struggled the following year when he won just two races but improved last year to claim six wins. His seven wins by June suggest he is on track for at least his second best season. From four previous Grand Tours starts, second place on stage five of last year's Giro is Démare's best result in a three-week race. However, with wins from February through to June, Démare will start the Tour as one of the top sprinters to watch in the battle for stage wins.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Chaves Rides into Tour Debut Free of Expectations

Esteban Chaves finished the Dauphine but didn't factor into the battle for the overall. Photo: Tim De Waele |

No one knows what to expect from Esteban Chaves in his upcoming Tour de France debut. Orica-Scott sport director Matt White knows one thing: Chaves will fight any way he can.

The 27-year-old Colombian is coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for four months. After a discreet, but trouble-free return to racing at the Critérium du Dauphiné, White expects Chaves to be a factor. He just doesn’t know how much.

“The big question is how that break is going to affect his performance in July,” White said. “He’s where he needs to be in terms of his recovery. So we’ll see how far he can go. They’ll be no more pressure than what any driven athlete puts on his himself. [Chaves] wants to do something, don’t worry about that. Our guys are really ambitious.”

After riding to podiums in two straight grand tours (second at the 2016 Giro d’Italia and third at the 2016 Vuelta a España), all eyes will be on Chaves. He’s emerged as a consistent player over three weeks in grand tours, a rider capable of winning stages and limiting his losses. If Nairo Quintana doesn’t become Colombia’s first Tour de France winner, Chaves is next in line.

Expectations were high for 2017, with a Tour debut finally in the cards. Yet after making his season debut in Australia, Chaves felt some discomfort in his knee. Doctors said it was a minor tendonitis flare-up.

Not wanting to take chances, the team put Chaves on a slow, steady recovery. After training in Colombia, he returned to racing at the Critérium du Dauphiné, and made it through the demanding, eight-stage race, finishing 26th overall.

Normally, that would not be an ideal sign with the Tour just weeks away. For Orica-Scott, having Chaves complete the Dauphiné without any complications is victory enough.

“There are absolutely no complications with his knee,” White said in a telephone interview. “We were conservative in his comeback. With knees and backs, you cannot muck around.”

White said the team is confident Chaves will be able to get through his highly anticipated Tour debut. They just don’t know what to expect.

“For sure he’ll be doing stuff in July, we just don’t when and where. This year’s Tour course offers plenty of opportunities for Esteban,” White said. “We’ll see how he can do. If anything, it will set him up for the Vuelta.”

Chaves is central to Orica-Scott’s immediate and long-term future. With the emergence of Chaves alongside Adam and Simon Yates, both 24, White suddenly has three of the hottest GC prospects in his hands.

The Australian team has gradually evolved from sprints and breakaway victories into more of a grand tour-focused squad. While it also boasts one of the most promising sprinters with Caleb Ewan, the team brought on experienced veterans like Ruben Plaza and Roman Kreuziger to provide ballast to their relatively inexperienced GC protégés.

For Chaves, this year’s Tour is just his first taste of the race that likely will be his central focus for the next several years. The team believes he can win grand tours, perhaps even the Tour de France. It all starts in July.

“Look, Esteban hasn’t had the ideal preparation, but that was out of our control, and we cannot go back in time to change it,” White said. “It’s his first Tour de France, so maybe it’s not a bad thing to have less-than-perfect preparation. The expectations aren’t going to be as high. So there’s a bit less pressure there. We honestly don’t know what he’s going to do.”


Friday, June 16, 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Is Froome Vulnerable or on a Slow Simmer?

Chris Froome seemed to lack his trademark knockout punch on the Dauphiné's climbs. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The peloton saw a different Chris Froome during the Critérium du Dauphiné, but will there be a different ending in July?

Richie Porte (BMC Racing) might not have won the Dauphiné, but he and the other GC favorites roll into next month’s Tour de France sensing that the three-time Tour de France champion might be vulnerable for the first time in years.

Every year that Froome’s won the Tour (2013, 2015, and 2016), he won the weeklong Dauphiné as part of his lead-up. On Sunday, Froome fell short in Sky’s all-in gamble to upend Porte in the thrilling finale and simply ran out of gas on the final climb.

The larger question was whether or not Froome will be at his absolute best in July to make a run for a fourth yellow jersey. Perhaps looking to pile the pressure onto his former teammate, Froome signaled Porte as the man to beat.

“Richie was strongest man in this race,” Froome admitted to reporters Sunday. “I still say that he is the favorite for July, and the strongest in the peloton at this point.”

Froome didn’t look as sharp as he normally does in June. Until this season, Froome and Team Sky were all but untouchable in any stage race that they seriously targeted. Froome was outgunned last year on the road to Formigal, costing him what likely would have been a victory in the Vuelta a España. In nearly every other race Froome was angling to win, he pummeled his rivals into submission.

Froome ceded time to Porte and others in every key stage of the Dauphiné last week.

So what’s the takeaway? There were more questions than answers as the dust settled after the race, but Froome preferred to look at the cup as half-full as he turns his attention toward winning a fourth yellow tunic.

“If I look at where I was a few weeks ago at the Romandie, I seemed to be a long way off the pace,” Froome said. “Here I feel as if I’ve got better and better over the week, and at least I am heading in the right direction. I feel as if I’m on track for July.”

The Dauphiné was supposed to be the Sky captain’s coming out party. Quiet all season and entering the Dauphiné with only 19 days of racing in his legs, Froome was ready to race and needing to win. Yet in all the key moments of the race, Froome could not produce that fear-inducing power that typically demoralizes his rivals. Instead, it was often Froome getting rolled over by Porte and others, including surprise winner Jakob Fuglsang (Astana).

No one at Team Sky was hitting the panic button, insisting that Froome is building his form just in time for the most important date on the calendar.

“Froomey is on the way up, step by step to the Tour,” Sky sport director Nicolas Portal said. “For sure he’s going to progress. He finished the race really well here, making some hard attacks and some long pulls. We’re all looking forward to the Tour, and there’s more to come.”

Sky did everything right in Sunday’s short and explosive climbing stage and turned the screws early to isolate Porte. Froome then rode aggressively, attacking over the top of Col de la Colombiere to drop Porte. Things looked to be going to script, yet Froome couldn’t deliver his classic knockout punch on the final 11.3km climb to Plateau de Solaison.

That is just the kind of climb where Froome characteristically spins away in his high-cadence wobble to blow the wheels off everyone. This week, he didn’t have the legs to finish it off.

It’s important to see Froome’s performance in the context of 2017. First off, he is clearly taking a different road to July this year. After an intense and busy 2016, Sky didn’t put Froome under pressure to perform early. The team’s brain trust is planning to have him fresh and explosive for July, especially in the decisive final week of the Tour, before a likely run to win the Vuelta a España once and for all.

Everyone inside the Sky bus is confident their man will be ready for the Tour, especially with the hardest and most decisive stages still more than one month away.

“It’s a different Dauphiné from the last number of years,” Portal continued. “We came here to try to win and we saw Richie was super strong, and now we can see Fuglsang was clearly very strong, too. I think these two riders were slightly better than us, but the team rode fantastic every day.”

Come July, Froome will hold an important advantage on all of his other rivals: he knows how to win the Tour.

With the exception of Alberto Contador (Vincenzo Nibali isn’t expected to race), Froome is the only former Tour winner who will be lining up in Dusseldorf. And with Contador’s last Tour-winning performance nearly a decade ago, Froome is the only contemporary rider who has an intact Tour de France infrastructure around him. Nairo Quintana, three times on the podium behind Froome, is the only other rider to bring a similar mix of Tour experience and support to this year’s Tour. Porte has yet to finish on a Tour podium.

It’s that collective power in numbers, experience, and strength that Sky can bring to the Tour that gives Portal and others a sense of calm after Froome missed out on the final Dauphiné podium by one second to third-place Dan Martin (Quick-Step floors).

“Fortress Froome” also looks firmly intact coming into July. While Sky’s final Tour selection remains undecided, riders such as Michal Kwiatkowski, Geraint Thomas, Sergio Henao, and likely Mikel Landa and Wout Poels give Froome a depth of support that other teams cannot match. Regardless if Froome was still a touch short of his top form, the team looked to be firing as planned.

The fact that Sky could so easily isolate Porte on Sunday also gives Froome some consolation. Five of Porte’s BMC teammates were close to regaining contact, but none of them could bridge across in the climb-riddled stage to provide Porte with much-needed support. Just as Contador was out-gunned by Andrew Talansky in a similar Dauphiné ambush in 2014, Porte was tactically out-maneuvered Sunday. That reveals a potential soft spot for the Australian come July. It rarely happens, but just as Froome learned last year at Formigal, the cost can be very high when it does occur.

Yet when Froome and Porte went head-to-head, it was the Tasmanian who was a pedal stroke ahead of his Kenya-born former teammate. The three-time Tour winner lost time in three key matchups versus Porte: 37 seconds in the 23.5km time trial, 23 seconds at Alpe d’Huez, and 21 seconds in Sunday’s thriller.

That’s what will matter most in July. The big question now is if Porte can hold that form all the way into late July, and whether or not Froome can get even stronger over the next few weeks.

“I think it was clear that Richie was the strongest rider on the climbs at this race,” BMC Racing sport director Fabio Baldato said. “Sometimes you need to have it all come together, and today it didn’t.”

Porte saw it differently, singling out Froome and Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde.

“There were a few guys who preferred me to lose the race, and they lost their podium as well. That’s racing. Bring on July,” he said.

While it’s still very possible Froome might win another Tour de France, his rivals leave the Dauphiné with at least a sense of hope. For the first time since 2013, that’s something that most in the peloton have not had.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Top 5 Race Across America (RAAM) Facts

The Race Across America (RAAM) is one of the longest running events in the world. It is over 3000miles, crosses 12 States & has over 170,000ft of vertical ascent!!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Porte Puts Froome on Notice at Dauphiné

Richie Porte proved fastest of the top Tour contenders in the Dauphine TT. Photo: Tim De Waele |

There is still a long way to go to the Tour de France, but Richie Porte put Chris Froome on notice Wednesday at the Critérium du Dauphiné.

The BMC rider blasted his way to victory in the 23.5km rolling time trial ahead of reigning world time trial champion Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin). He put himself in pole position to win the eight-day stage race just weeks ahead of the Tour.

The Dauphiné is always an important test of form and intent going into July’s Tour de France. Froome (Sky) has won the Dauphiné each year he’s gone on to win his three Tour titles. On Wednesday, the teacher ceded 37 seconds to his former pupil. Porte again confirmed that he is emerging as a dangerous rival.

“We have seen in the past that if Chris Froome is good here, he is good at the Tour de France,” Porte said. “I just hope that’s the same for me.”

In his second season with BMC Racing, Porte’s been on a tear. He won six races, including the Santos Tour Down Under and the Tour de Romandie. His former teammate Froome remains uncharacteristically winless so far in 2017.

With eighth in the time trial, Froome slots into sixth overall, 37 seconds behind second-place Porte. The Brit is 1:04 behind race leader Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), who rode well to defend his leader’s jersey.

Froome put his performance into context, and said there’s no reason to panic.

“I’ve still got three weeks now after the Dauphiné in terms of time trial work, and it’s obviously something that I’m going to have to do a little bit of work on,” Froome said. “I’ve done everything right up to now, and I’ll just keep going up until the Tour.”

After a busy 2016 that included the Tour, Vuelta a España, and the Olympics, Froome has been easing into 2017. He is focused on winning a fourth yellow jersey next month. While Porte might want to set early season markers to gain confidence and momentum, Froome insists he’s already done that. He said what matters is how he’s racing next month.

While Porte’s gains against Tour rivals, such as Froome, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) are important, his performance across the mountains will be even more decisive — both for the Dauphiné and the Tour.

Three mountain stages wait this weekend, including Alpe d’Huez and Mont du Chat.

Porte’s lead means that rivals will have to attack to try to win. That will also be an important test both for Froome, who typically can race defensively, and for Porte, who needs to demonstrate he can manage a team as well as fend off rivals in a major race. Valverde, Contador, Froome, and 2014 winner Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac) all loom within one minute of Porte.

Of course, everyone first has to get rid of de Gendt.

“It changes the dynamic,” Froome said. “I can be more offensive going into the next few days … [the time trial] was a good test, but we’ve got three big days of climbing on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That will be another big test to see exactly where everyone is at.”

After another transition stage Thursday, the Dauphiné will play out in a trio of mountain stages.

“In the Tour de France, it’s going to be won more in the mountains than in the time trials,” Porte said. “I’m quite confident in how I am climbing at the moment. … I’d rather be climbing well than time trialing well. It’s not over yet. There are some hard stages to come so I’m just happy about how today went. Whatever happens, happens, but I am on a good path.”

The Dauphiné doesn’t always indicate who will win the Tour de France, but it has in four of the past five editions. Whoever wins Sunday will be hoping history repeats itself.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Simon Yates, Chaves Join Forces at Criterium du Dauphine

Orica-Scott tunes up for Tour de France with packed line-up

An exhubuerent Simon Yates wins stage 6 of Vuelta (Getty Images Sport)

Simon Yates will be the leader of the Orica-Scott squad for the Critérium du Dauphiné, and the Briton will be supported by last year's Giro d'Italia runner-up Esteban Chaves, who is just returning to racing after four months out of competition due to a knee injury.

Although Yates will lead the team, directeur sportif Laurenzo Lapage says he will not be under too much pressure to get a top result.

"It would be great if he can be up there overall and also look to the white jersey competition," Lapage said. "The most important thing for us in this race is that the guys come out with a good feeling ahead of the Tour de France. As it is the first race back for many of the guys, for example Impey, we have to be careful that they use the race well and come out of it feeling good."

Yates and Chaves will be joined by Daryl Impey, who is also returning after breaking his collarbone in Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April.

"For sure I think the guys will be in good shape after their different training blocks, they always arrive in good condition and we know that the Dauphiné is always a hard race."

Also in the team is recent Baloise Belgium Tour winner Jens Keukeleire, Tour of Norway runner-up Simon Gerrans, Roman Kreuziger, Jack Haig and Herald Sun Tour winner Damien Howson.

The race begins on June 4 with three undulating stages before the individual time trial and mountain stages will swing the race in favour of the overall contenders. Lapage sees the first few stages as a chance for the team to test themselves.

"The first few days could go either way, they could potentially be bunch sprints or finish with a breakaway," he said. "Therefore these first stages are chances for the sprinters and Keukeleire is obviously in good shape having won the Tour of Belgium, so one of those early days we will ride for him and for another day we have Gerrans."

Orica-Scott for the Critérium du Dauphiné: Esteban Chaves, Simon Gerrans, Jack Haig, Damien Howson, Daryl Impey, Jens Keukeleire, Roman Kreuziger, and Simon Yates.

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