One-day classics specialists set to shine at Tour

With three of five mountain ranges behind them, the Tour de France peloton set course towards the Massif Central on Saturday with opportunity in the air.

One-day classics specialists set to shine at Tour
Just the Massif Central and Alps remain for the Tour competitors. Photo: PHILIPPE LOPEZ / AFP
The Vosges, Jura and Pyrenees have been and gone meaning that just the Massif Central and Alps remain but Saturday will likely offer a quieter day for the overall contenders including race leader Fabio Aru and reigning champion Chris Froome.
Not so for Bastille Day hero Warren Barguil, though. The 25-year-old delighted the French crowd in Foix on Friday by winning his maiden Tour stage, on France's national holiday to boot. But he will have little time to celebrate on Saturday as he returns to team duties.
“The next stage is already tomorrow (Saturday) for Michael (Matthews) because there's going to be a sprint,” he said after his victory.
The race moves from the yellow jersey battle which raged on Friday to the green jersey one on Saturday and a chance for Australian Matthews to make up some much needed ground.
German Marcel Kittel has dominated that competition so far on the back of five stage wins but Matthews has a chance of closing his 128-point deficit if he can make the most of the next three days over lumpy terrain.
Saturday's 181.5km 14th stage begins in Blagnac, the hub of the European aeronautics industry, and ends in Rodez, known for its sheep tripe speciality.
The bumpy run-in that crests two third category climbs before finishing on a steep 570-metre climb with a 9.7 percent average gradient will be too tough for Kittel and the other specialist sprinters.
But it's ideal territory for an all-rounder like Matthews and with 50 points on offer at the line to the winner, the Aussie Sunweb rider could start to make some inroads into Kittel's lead.
But he'll have Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet to contend with among others.
Belgian Van Avermaet won a stage finish in Rodez two years ago, outsprinting world champion Peter Sagan in the process.
Sagan would have been a favourite for Saturday's stage but was kicked out of the race last week for elbowing British sprinter Mark Cavendish in a pacey finish.
With the overall contenders set to take something of a back seat, there will be a bun-fight to get in the day's breakaway as it has a great chance of going all the way.
The sprinters' teams won't feel the need to chase, neither will the contenders' teams so it should be a large breakaway containing some top one-day classics specialists.
Van Avermaet and Matthews are certain to be amongst them.


Inaugural Women’s Tour de France to start at Eiffel Tower

The route for the inaugural women's Tour de France was unveiled on Thursday with eight stages, embarking from the Eiffel Tower on July 24th next year.

French cyclist Marion Rousse delivers a speech next to Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme during the presentation of the first edition of the Women's Tour de France cycling race.
French cyclist Marion Rousse delivers a speech next to Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme during the presentation of the first edition of the Women's Tour de France cycling race. Photo: Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP.

The first complete edition of the women’s version of cycling’s iconic race starts on the day the 109th edition of the men’s Tour ends.

After a route that winds through northern France, the race culminates in the Planche des Belles Filles climb in the Vosges mountains.

Danish cyclist Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig said she was over the moon to be taking part.

“I want it to be July now so we can get stared,” she said actually jumping up and down.

“The Tour de France is a reference and when you say you are a cyclist people ask about that. Now I can say I race the Tour de France,” she said after the presentation.

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Race director Marion Rousse, a former French cycling champion and now a TV commentator, told AFP it would be a varied course that would maintain suspense over the eight days.

“It is coherent in a sporting sense, and we wanted to start from Paris,” she said of the 1,029km run.

“With only eight stages we couldn’t go down to the Alps or the Pyrenees, the transfers would be too long.

“The stages obviously are shorter for the women than for the men’s races. The men can go 225 kilometres. For the women the longest race on our roster is 175km and we even needed special dispensation for that,” she said. “But it’s a course I love.”

Christian Prudhomme, the president of the Tour de France organisers, was equally enthusiastic.

“The fact it sets off from Paris the day the men’s race ends gives the new race a boost because it sets the media up to follow it more easily.

“It also means that with the Tour de France starting on July 1st and the women’s race ending on the 31st, there will be cycling on television every day of July.”

The men’s race is broadcast in around 190 countries.