AP

Hein Verbruggen, cycling chief during Lance Armstrong era, dies

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Hein Verbruggen, the former president of the International Cycling Union who oversaw the worldwide spread of a sport often tainted by doping, has died. He was 75.

The UCI and the International Olympic Committee both reacted to the news on Wednesday, underscoring the Dutchman’s clout within both organizations.

The IOC flew its flag at half staff and Dutch King Willem-Alexander, a former IOC member, called him “a man with a big heart for the Olympic movement, for cycling and those close to him.”

Dutch cycling association spokesman Kevin Leenheers confirmed the death, saying Verbruggen died on Tuesday night.

Critics said Verbruggen was too close to those involved in doping. He was often confronted for his relationship with Lance Armstrong, the American rider who was the face of cycling with his seven Tour de France victories before he came to embody the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs.

Time and again Verbruggen faced accusers saying he was colluding with dopers instead of countering them. Just as often, he fought back to save his tarnished reputation. He proclaimed his innocence until his death.

Verbruggen was a consummate businessman all his life, yet he was never able to shake the doping scandals during his reign.

The reason for his opposition to doping was simple, he said.

“I want to get rid of doping because it prevents me from selling the sport,” Verbruggen said three decades ago, as he was making his way up the ladder in the cycling world.

As a sales manager at Mars food, he got into cycling and found a sport which was totally antiquated when others like tennis were developing with the times and becoming successful professional enterprises.

When cycling still centered mainly on France, Belgium and Italy for major races, Verbruggen was already dreaming about the world at large, driven by such ideas as World Cup rankings to get a more global appeal.

“Protect in Europe what we have, and then afterwards comes America,” he said.

And no one was bigger in America than Armstrong. With his fightback from cancer to become the dominant rider of his age, the storybook saga was cut out for Verbruggen to push the internationalization of the sport.

The two thrived together until the rumors of doping became overpowering. The strongest claims were that the UCI helped cover up an Armstrong positive test at the 1999 Tour de France, the Texan’s first victory, and at another race two years later. Verbruggen denied it.

Verbruggen served as UCI president for 14 years and stepped down after Armstrong’s seventh straight Tour win. Afterward, those years came to be defined as the doping era.

Two years ago, a year-long investigation found no proof that a payment Armstrong made to the UCI was to cover up a positive test even though it said the Verbruggen era was marked by “inadequate” policies on doping.

Beyond cycling, Verbruggen was also a major presence in the Olympic movement and was instrumental in the preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“For this, he will be always remembered,” IOC President Thomas Bach said.

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Richie Porte crashes out of Tour de France again

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Australian Richie Porte crashed out of the Tour de France on the ninth stage for a second straight year, suffering a fractured right clavicle six miles into Sunday’s stage.

“Obviously I’m devastated,” Porte said, according to Team BMC. “For the second year in a row I am ending the Tour de France like this. I was on the ground before I knew it, and straight away felt pain in my right shoulder.”

Porte, who finished fifth in the 2016 Tour de France and was an overall podium contender these last two years, was seen sitting on the side of the road, gritting his teeth and crossing his right arm over his chest.

There was a mass stoppage of riders, with at least one spectator down on the side of the narrow road. The crash came well before the Tour stage was to hit 15 arduous cobblestone sections totaling 13 miles.

Porte was in 10th place after eight stages, 57 seconds behind race leader and BMC teammate Greg Van Avermaet. Avermaet and American Tejay van Garderen, in third place, were expected to work for Porte in the mountains later this week, hoping to put him in the yellow jersey.

Now, Van Garderen is in line to be the team leader.

In 2017, Porte fractured his clavicle and pelvis on a ninth-stage crash on a descent and had to abandon the Tour.

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Chris Froome, other stars crash on Tour de France cobblestones stage

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Richie PorteTejay van GarderenRigoberto UranMikel Landa. Even Chris Froome.

Stage nine of the Tour de France promised to rattle the top riders, and the 15 sections of cobblestones totaling 13 miles delivered just that. All of the named men crashed on Sunday, with Porte abandoning the Grand Tour altogether (albeit he crashed before the first cobbles section, six miles into the stage).

In the end, German John Degenkolb got the stage win ahead of overall race leader Greg Van Avermaet and Yves Lampaert.

Van Avermaet, the Olympic road race champion from Belgium, retained the yellow jersey for a sixth straight day, extending his lead to 43 seconds over Brit Geraint Thomas. Van Avermaet rides for Team BMC, which lost its team leader in Porte.

American van Garderen presumably became the new team leader, but he crashed later in the stage and also suffered three flat tires.

Van Garderen entered the day third in the overall standings, nine seconds behind Van Avermaet. He ended it in 30th place, 6:05 behind Van Avermaet.

The best-placed favorite to finish on the podium in Paris on July 29 is now the four-time Tour winner Froome, in eighth place, 1:42 behind Van Avermaet. Froome is trying to tie the record of five Tour titles shared by Jacques AnquetilEddy MerckxBernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

The Tour takes its first of two rest days Monday, resuming with the first day in the Alps on Tuesday live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here). Stage 10 features a beyond-category climb and three category-one climbs.

“I’m relieved to get through today and looking forward to getting into the mountains now where the real race for GC (general classification) will start,” Froome said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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