Dylan Groenewegen wins consecutive Tour de France stages; cobblestones next

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AMIENS, France (AP) — Dylan Groenewegen has turned the sprinting battle at the Tour de France into a three-man race.

The 25-year-old Dutch rider won his second consecutive stage on Saturday, joining world champion Peter Sagan and Tour newcomer Fernando Gaviria as two-stage winners at this edition of the world’s leading cycling race.

Groenewegen entered the final meters of Stage 8 behind Andre Greipel, Gaviria and Sagan, but the Team LottoNL-Jumbo rider timed his last surge perfectly, swinging around his hard-charging opponents to cross first.

“It was a hectic (finish), but that’s every day in the Tour,” Groenewegen said. “I am very happy with my team. The last two days have been very good with two wins.”

Greipel and Gaviria crossed next, but their results were disqualified after they dangerously jockeyed for position in the final meters, though they both keep their times.

All of the contenders for the final podium in Paris on July 29 finished in the same time.

However those standings could be rattled by cobblestones on the road to Roubaix in Sunday’s ninth stage, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here).

Olympic road race champion Greg Van Avermaet, who is riding in support of BMC leader Richie Porte, kept the overall lead for a fifth consecutive day Saturday.

Van Avermaet picked up a one-second bonus overall during an intermediate bonus sprint at 20km from the finish. That increased his lead over Froome’s teammate Geraint Thomas in second to 7 seconds and his own BMC teammate Tejay Van Garderen to 9 seconds.

The only incident to interrupt the leg was a pile-up with just under 20km to go. UAE Emirates leader Dan Martin, the winner of Stage 6, bloodied his left elbow and tore the back of his shirt. Martin, sixth at last year’s Tour, and 11 other riders couldn’t reconnect, and Martin lost more than a minute, falling from 21st to 31st place at 2:47 behind.

Every cyclist at the Tour de France, from title favorite Chris Froome to the lowliest support rider, has Sunday circled on their calendar.

Riders will try to stay upright as they bump and bounce their way over 15 cobbled paths scattered along 22 kilometers of the 156.5-kilometer course of Stage 9 from Arras to Roubaix, near the Belgian border.

For four-time champion Froome and most of other title contenders, the ride over the cobbles is about surviving. The top riders who fight for every second on normal roads usually prefer losing time to risking a fall that could knock them out of contention.

As Movistar veteran Alejandro Valverde puts it, “You can’t win the Tour on the cobbles, but you sure can lose it.”

There is one exception to the extreme caution usually shown by the team leaders.

Vincenzo Nibali, the last rider other than Froome to win the Tour, took a huge step to securing his 2014 title when he skillfully traversed the slick cobbles to extend his overall lead.

Valverde and Alberto Contador were both slowed by crashes and finished more than two minutes behind the Italian, as did Americans van Garderen and Andrew Talansky. Froome had to withdraw from that fifth stage when he fell early before the course had reached the cobbles.

Froome did manage to make it through the cobbles in 2015 en route to winning his second Tour.

“I’m not scared,” Froome said.

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