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Jakob Fuglsang

Geraint Thomas crashes, recovers; other pre-Tour de France favorite out in Stage 16

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NIMES, France (AP) — Crashing is becoming a bad habit for defending Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas.

After hitting the ground twice over the past two weeks, the Welshman fell off his bike one more time on Tuesday as a heat wave engulfed the race ahead of grueling days in the Alps when the Tour will reach its climax.

Once again, Thomas was lucky enough to escape with bruises and scratches, but the timing of his crash in the rural hinterland of the antique Roman city of Nimes was unfortunate. Although Thomas quickly got back on his bike and did not lose time, crashes always have a lingering effect on riders’ bodies. It’s generally after 48 hours that the soreness reaches its peak, and that’s when he will be fighting in high altitude with rivals trying to take him off his perch.

Lagging 1 minute, 35 seconds behind race leader Julian Alaphilippe with the race now going into its five last stages, Thomas was caught off guard under a scorching sun about 40 kilometers into the stage won by Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan.

The peloton was not riding at full speed, but Thomas was surprised.

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“I just had one hand on the bars, and the gears jumped and jammed and I got thrown off my bike on a corner,” he said. “I knew the race wasn’t on so I just got back into the group. It’s just frustrating. It was such a freak thing.”

Danish rider Jakob Fuglsang, who stood ninth overall, was not as lucky and was forced to abandon the Tour with a left hand injury after falling late in the stage as the peloton pedaled past the picturesque town of Uzes.

Thomas, a former track specialist who transformed into a Tour de France contender after years spent working in support of four-time champion Chris Froome, has always been prone to crashing. Just last month, his preparation for the Tour was cut short by a spill during a race in Switzerland.

But he has also shown in the past that he can soldier on in pain. Six years ago when riding the Tour as Froome’s loyal teammate, Thomas fell off his bike on a Corsican road in the opening stage and broke his pelvis. But he kept racing for 3,000 kilometers to reach the finish.

He will need to be at the top of his form on Thursday for the start of an Alpine trilogy of stages including six climbs over 2,000 meters. This is when the race — the most exciting in the last decade — will be decided before Sunday’s ceremonial ride to Paris.

Sixteen stages out of 21 have been completed, but the suspense remains intact, with six riders separated by little more than 2 minutes. Behind Alaphilippe and Thomas, Steven Kruijswijk remained third, 1:47 off the pace and 3 seconds ahead of Thibaut Pinot. Thomas’ Ineos teammate Egan Bernal lags 2:02 behind and Emmanuel Buchmann has a 2:14 deficit.

Bernal, a Colombian and one of the best pure climbers in the Tour, played down Thomas’ crash and said the race in the Alps will suit him more than the Pyrenees, where both Ineos leaders conceded time to Pinot.

“He crashed but with no consequence and I don’t think he’ll suffer from it in the coming days,” Bernal said. “We’re approaching the Alps. The climbs there are longer and steeper. They’re more of the Colombian style of climbing. I’m ready and I feel good.”

Ewan said he suffered from the heat throughout the stage — temperatures soared as high as 40 degrees Celsius (40 F) — but it did not slow him down in the finale. The Australian Tour debutant edged Elia Viviani and Dylan Groenewegen to post his second stage win following his maiden success in Toulouse last week.

Earlier, riders tried to cool down with bottles of cold water against the backs of their necks as they pedaled on the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge set against a dramatic landscape of rocks, trees and water. Alexis Gougeard, Lukasz Wisniowski, Stephane Rossetto, Paul Ourselin and Lars Bak organized the day’s breakaway and had a maximum lead of 2 minutes.

After the group was caught two kilometers from the finish, Viviani was set up by his teammates and launched the sprint about 200 meters from the line but could not resist Ewan’s comeback.

“To be honest, I felt so bad today during the day. I think the heat really got to me,” Ewan said. “I was really suffering but I had extra motivation today because my daughter and wife are here. I’m so happy I could win for them.”

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

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Mike Teunissen wins Tour de France Stage 1; Geraint Thomas crashes

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Mike Teunissen claimed the first yellow jersey of this year’s Tour de France with a sprint victory in Saturday’s opening stage, which was marked by defending champion Geraint Thomas’ crash in the finale.

Thomas’ Ineos team said he fell in the final meters but “feels fine.” Another top contender, Jakob Fuglsang, also hit the tarmac about 12 miles from the finish in a separate crash.

The 26-year-old Teunissen, who became the first Dutch rider to wear the yellow jersey since Erik Breukink 30 years ago, edged former world champion Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan on the finish line in Brussels.

Thomas quickly got back on his bike after hitting a barrier while his teammate Egan Bernal was held up by the crash. They did not lose time as per race regulations because the accident occurred within the final three kilometers.

In the absence of four-time winner Chris Froome, Thomas and Bernal have been promoted to co-leaders of the Ineos team.

Fuglsang, who is rated among the favorites this year, was hurt in the crash that took place a few moments earlier. The Criterium du Dauphine winner remounted his bike with blood on his face and right knee, and scratches on his jersey.

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The race started from the Belgian capital to honor the 50th anniversary of cycling great Eddy Merckx’s first of five Tour victories. The 120.8-mile trek took the peloton through the Flanders and Wallonia regions and back to Brussels, which will also host Sunday’s team time trial.

The second spill played havoc within the sprinters’ teams riding at the front and split the peloton in two. It took out of contention Teunissen’s Jumbo-Visma teammate Dylan Groenewegen, the team’s best sprinter.

“Bizarre scenario. I hope Dylan is OK,” said Teunissen, who was initially set to be part of Groenewegen’s lead-out train.

In the slightly uphill section leading to the finish line on the leafy Avenue du Parc Royal, Teunissen perfectly timed his effort to deny Sagan a 12th stage win at the Tour.

The opening day had started in a joyful atmosphere in the cycling-mad city of Brussels. Merckx was greeted by Belgian fans filling the streets as he stood alongside race director Christian Prudhomme in a red open-top car riding in front of the peloton.

The five-time Tour champion saluted the crowd and chatted with competitors before a short stop on Brussels’ Grand Place where Prudhomme introduced riders to King Philippe of Belgium and Prime Minister Charles Michel.

Leaving Brussels, the 176 Tour competitors started their loop south of the city at a fast tempo as a group of four riders led by Greg Van Avermaet, a one-day classics specialist from Belgium, immediately formed at the front.

The quartet reached the first difficulty of the day — the Muur van Geraardsbergen, a 1.2-kilometer cobbled climb — with a 3-minute lead. Van Avermaet made a point of honor to be first at the top to the delight of home fans cheering him along on the side of the road. Belgian rider Xandro Meurisse, a member of the initial breakaway, was first at the Bosberg, another climb featuring at the Ronde van Vlaanderen classic race.

Guaranteed the first best climber’s polka dot jersey, Van Avermaet stopped his effort soon after and was reined in by the peloton as the lead group was reduced to three men: Meurisse, Natnael Berhane and Mads Wurtz.

Behind them, sprinters’ teams organized the chase to reduce the gap to less than two minutes with 90 kilometers to go. As the main pack approached a two-kilometer long and dangerous cobbled sector outside of the city of Charleroi, Thomas and other contenders also surged to the front in a move aimed at avoiding potential crashes on a narrow stretch of road.

The only noteworthy incident on the tricky section was Deceuninck-Quick Step sprinter Elia Viviani’s puncture. The Italian rider was held back for a while and could not compete with the fastest men for the intermediate sprint points once the three at the front were caught with 70 kilometers left.

Sagan, chasing a seventh best sprinter’s green jersey this year, used his power and speed to beat Sonny Colbrelli and Van Avermaet.

Tour debutant Stephane Rossetto of France then tried a solo escape and was first at the Lion’s Mound monument that overlooks the battlefield where Napoleon’s troops were defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. But the Frenchman’s efforts on open stretches of road exposed to wind were left unrewarded and he was ultimately swallowed up as the final sprint took shape.

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

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Marcel Kittel wins Tour de France stage after Alberto Contador crashes

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Polish rider Maciej Bodnar nearly pulled off an incredible wire-to-wire effort for his first Tour de France stage win. But after 125 miles in the lead, the 32-year-old was caught by the peloton in Stage 11 on Wednesday.

Marcel Kittel won his fifth stage of the Tour in a bunched sprint, after two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador and podium contender Jakob Fuglsang both crashed.

Both Fuglsang and Contador regrouped to finish with the peloton, leaving no major shakeups in the overall standings. Chris Froome still leads by 18 seconds over Italian Fabio Aru as the Tour heads into the Pyrenees on Thursday.

Kittel edged Dylan Groenewegen and Edvald Boasson Hagen to become the first cyclist to win five stages in one Tour since Mark Cavendish in 2011. The record in one Tour is eight stages.

There are three more flat stages next week for Kittel to possibly seize in the absence of rivals Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Arnaud Demare, all knocked out of the Tour.

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Bodnar was part of a breakaway group at the start of the 126-mile stage and was the last man caught, with fewer than 250 meters before the finish. Bodnar, who has never finished in the top 100 overall in 10 Grand Tour starts, was at the lead of the stage for about four and a half hours.

Fuglsang, in fifth place overall at the start of the day, suffered a broken wrist in a crash while one of his Team Astana mates, Dario Cataldo, had to abandon the race.

Later, Contador hit the pavement with about 13 miles left in the flat 126-mile stage. Contador’s hopes of a first Tour podium finish since 2009 were already dim. He entered the day in 12th place and 5 minutes, 15 seconds behind Froome.

Stage 12 on Thursday could be decisive. Riders face five categorized climbs in the Pyrenees over 133 miles. NBC Sports Gold coverage starts at 4:50 a.m. ET, with NBCSN coverage at 7.

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