Ten riders to watch at Tour de France

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Ten riders to watch at the Tour de France, live on NBC Sports from July 7-29 (broadcast/streaming schedule here) … 

Chris Froome
Team Sky/Great Britain
2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 Tour de France winner

If there’s one storyline this year, it’s Froome’s bid to tie the Tour de France titles record amid at least a microscope and at most a drug-testing controversy. Jacques AnquetilEddy MerckxBernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain all won five. Lance Armstrong of course claimed seven, but they were all stripped. Froome’s history chase is clouded by a September doping test that revealed twice the legal limit of an asthma drug. Froome was cleared of wrongdoing by the International Cycling Union five days before the start of the Tour, but he is sure to be the target of (at least) verbal barbs from fans.

Nairo Quintana
Movistar/Colombia
2013, 2015 Tour de France runner-up

Once Froome’s biggest challenger and still may be. Quintana won the Giro d’Italia in 2014 and the Vuelta a España in 2016, the latter being the last time Froome was beaten in a Grand Tour. Quintana struggled to 12th at last year’s Tour de France, but that was after racing the Giro that spring. Quintana skipped the Giro this season, but matters are complicated by having two other GC riders on his team.

Richie Porte
BMC/Australia
Fifth place, 2016 Tour de France

Porte was Froome’s right-hand man in the mountains for his first two Tour titles. He moved to BMC in 2016 and was tapped by Froome last year as his biggest threat, but Porte crashed out of stage nine in the 2017 Tour. Porte returned to win the Tour de Suisse last month (Quintana was third; Froome was resting after winning the Giro). Team BMC, which also includes American Tejay van Garderen, faces an uncertain future without a title sponsor beyond this season.

Mikel Landa
Movistar/Spain
Fourth place, 2017 Tour de France

Landa succeeded Porte as the strongest non-Froome rider on Sky. He missed the podium by one second last year and certainly looked strong enough helping Froome in the mountains to be leading his own team. Landa’s move to Movistar for this season doesn’t necessarily boost his yellow-jersey hopes. He’s on a team with two other GC contenders — Quintana and Alejando Valverde.

Vincenzo Nibali
Bahrain–Merida/Italy
2014 Tour de France winner

The only man in the field with a Tour title other than Froome. Like Froome, Nibali has also won all three Grand Tours (seven men have done this in history). Nibali, who left Astana for Bahrain-Merida in 2017, has finished on the podium in 10 of his last 14 Grand Tours dating to 2010. But he was 30th in his last Tour de France in 2016 and unimpressive in spring races.

Tom Dumoulin
Sunweb/Netherlands
2017 Giro d’Italia winner

Dumoulin’s success can be separated into two pots — time trials and the Giro. He earned Olympic time trial silver in Rio (between Fabian Cancellara and Froome) and won the world title last year (ahead of bronze medalist Froome). He captured the Giro in 2017, becoming the first Dutch man to win a Grand Tour since 1980, and was runner-up to Froome in Italy this year. Dumoulin’s best Tour de France finish was 33rd, and this is his first time racing the Tour after completing the Giro.

Romain Bardet
AG2R La Mondiale/France
Tour de France runner-up (2016) and third place (2017)

At 27, the youngest rider on this list. Bardet is again tasked with trying to end France’s longest Tour victory drought, now dating 33 years since Hinault’s fifth and final title in 1985. Strong in the mountains, Bardet is known for struggling in time trials. He nearly squandered a place on the podium on a 14-mile time trial in the Tour’s penultimate stage last year, losing 72 seconds to Landa.

Rigoberto Uran
EF Education First–Drapac p/b Cannondale/Colombia
2017 Tour de France runner-up

The surprise of the 2017 Tour podium. Uran was best known for taking 2012 Olympic road race silver. He went into the 2017 Tour with a best previous finish of 24th, though he was runner-up at the Giro 2013 and 2014. Uran helped usher in a strong group of Colombian riders, but no South American has won the Tour de France. Uran, flying under the radar by his spring results, will again have help from American Taylor Phinney and, especially in the mountains, veteran Frenchman Pierre Rolland.

Peter Sagan
Bora–Hansgrohe/Slovakia
Eight Tour de France stage wins

The most magnetic figure in the sport returns after being wrongly disqualified for his clash with Mark Cavendish in the fourth stage last year. Sagan is nicknamed “The Terminator,” is known to pop wheelies at races and inhale gummy fruit candy after victories. And that happens often. Sagan has won three world road race titles and five Tour de France points classifications as the top sprinter. One more green jersey in Paris to match Erik Zabel‘s record.

Mark Cavendish
Dimension Data/Great Britain
30 Tour de France stage wins

Cavendish’s Tour ended after four stages last year, breaking his shoulder falling from that clash with Sagan. That meant he remained four stage wins shy of Merckx’s record. Time is running out. Cavendish is 33 years old and won five stages total from the last four Tours. It’s getting more and more difficult for the Manx Missile to outsprint Sagan and the other 20-somethings chasing the green jersey.

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MORE: Froome cleared to race Tour, doping case closed

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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