Things to keep in mind entering Tour de France’s final push
Overall leader Italy's Vincenzo Nibali, and Estonia's Tanel Kangert, right, talk during a training on the second rest day of the Tour de France cycling race in Lignan-sur-Orb, southern France, Monday, July 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Overall leader Italy's Vincenzo Nibali gets ready to leave for a training on the second rest day of the Tour de France cycling race in Lignan-sur-Orb, southern France, Monday, July 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Italy's Michele Scarponi rests a little in a team car as he waits for the rest of the Astana team with overall leader Italy's Vincenzo Nibali, to go for a training on the second rest day of the Tour de France cycling race in Lignan-sur-Orb, southern France, Monday, July 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
France's Thomas Voeckler, front, and Spain's Louis Angel Mate Mardones, pass spectators waving the French flag as they ride breakaway form the pack during the fourth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 163.5 kilometers (101.6 miles) with start in Le Touquet and finish in Lille, France, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
CARCASSONNE, France – The Tour de France paused for a day in this medieval fortress town just north of the Pyrenees mountains to give the 170 remaining riders a chance to rest up for the race’s final 567 miles beginning today.
Riders relaxed, ate, met with reporters and otherwise found ways to recover from the 1,710 miles that they’ve raced since the start on July 5 in Leeds, England. The last six stages include three heavy days of climbing in the Pyrenees and take in four lung-busting summits that are rated “beyond category” – the hardest they come.
Here are five things to know about the Tour de France going into today:
VOECKLER VENTS: Tour riders have had enough with fans along the road stepping in their way and potentially causing dangerous accidents as the athletes whiz by. Europcar team veteran Thomas Voeckler let loose on one fan during Sunday’s stage, giving the bystander a dressing down he’s sure not to soon forget.
In a video of the scene captured by a fan and posted on the website of French sports daily L’Equipe, Voeckler is seen braking to a stop along the roadside, then turning back and angrily shouting “Hey! Come here! Come!”
A voice off camera repeats “Sorry!” several times, to which Voeckler answers “Have you ever ridden a bike?” Then the popular French rider, famous for wearing the yellow jersey for 10 stages in both 2004 and 2011, slowly pushes off and accelerates back up the road.
Voeckler is currently in 53rd place, almost an hour and 42 minutes behind leader Vincenzo Nibali of Italy.
Earlier in the Tour, several similar incidents were captured by television cameras, when fans looking into their camera phones rather than watching the race caused a series of crashes and near misses. American rider Tejay van Garderen was knocked down and suffered minor knee injuries by one such fan on Stage 2. He later tweeted that selfie-taking fans demonstrated “a dangerous mix of vanity and stupidity.”
BELKIN’S LUCK CHANGING? Dutch team Belkin currently has two riders in the Tour’s top 10 overall and one stage win – a fairly successful Tour so far. However, its riders began the Tour under a cloud, with the knowledge that U.S. consumer electroncis manufacturer Belkin would drop its sponsorship of the team after this season.
Now it seems the team’s luck has changed, with reports that the team management has found sponsors to replace Belkin.
Team spokesman Leon Brouwer confirmed a report in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that Holland’s national lottery is in talks with Brand Loyalty, a Dutch speedskating team sponsor, to take over sponsorship of the team after Belkin leaves.
“There are talks, but nothing’s signed yet,” Brouwer said.
Belkin announced it was ending its sponsorship of the team last month.
The team had been known as Rabobank for many years until the Dutch bank dropped its sponsorship in 2012, citing professional cycling’s dismal history of doping scandals.
Belkin rider Lars Boom won the epic cobblestone stage between Ypres and Arenberg Porte du Hainaut on July 10, while teammates Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam sit in seventh and ninth place overall.
AND THEN THERE WAS ONE: The departure from the race of Englishman Simon Yates leaves only one British rider left in the 2014 Tour – a race that began in Britain for only the second time in its 111-year history.
Yates was pulled after Sunday’s 138-mile stage from Tallard to Nimes by his Australian Orica GreenEDGE team. Orica said the 21-year-old Yates “will return home to rest and recover, destined for more great things to come.”
Yates’s exit puts him in impressive company. The 25-time Tour stage winner Mark Cavendish crashed out on Stage 1 and yellow jersey winner Chris Froome abandoned after a series of crashes on Stage 5. In a statement, Yates said the Tour has been “non-stop really and it really has been surreal, a really good experience and I hope to be back here in a year to come.”
Yates was in 83rd place overall after the stage, more than two hours behind Nibali.
With Yates out, Britain’s Geraint Thomas of Team Sky is the lone British rider still competing. He sits 18th, more than 20 minutes off leader Nibali’s pace.
SKYFALL: Two-time defending Tour champion Team Sky has suffered a humiliating return to earth at this year’s Tour. After 2013 champ Froome threw in the towel on Stage 5, the team turned to his key lieutenant Australian Richie Porte as its “Plan B.”
After suffering from bronchitis and several bad days in the Alps, Porte is now far out of contention and the team is looking for a Plan C.
“One moment you’re second on GC (General Classification) and the next you find yourself out of the top 10,” Porte said in a statement yesterday. “I’m still struggling, but with the Pyrenees coming up, hopefully I can recover and try and bounce back.”
Sky hasn’t troubled the top places of a single one of the 15 Tour stages raced so far, a fate shared by only five of the 21 other teams competing, namely Bretagne-Seche, Cofidis, Europcar, Lampre-Merida and Orica GreenEDGE.
The once mighty Sky squad’s best result so far is Porte’s fourth place on Stage 8 in the Vosges mountains between Tomblaine and Gerardmer.
SWEET 16: The race resumes today with Stage 16, the longest stage of the 2014 Tour: 147.6 miles from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon, deep in the French Pyrenees near the border with Spain. The route takes in a succession of small climbs before making the 7.3-mile ascent up the 1,753-meter Port de Bales, about 12.5 miles from the finish.
The climb was last included in the Tour in 2012, as part of a stage that was nearly 62 miles shorter than this year’s version. Alejandro Valverde of Spain went over the top in first place and kept his lead until the finish for his fourth and most recent Tour stage win. Valverde, who is currently in second place overall 4:37 behind Nibali, may try to repeat and make it five.