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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Thursday, July 13, 2017

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2017 Tour de France | 2017 Giro d'Italia

Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts. - Charles Dickens

Current Racing

Latest completed racing:

Tour de France stage eleven reports

I write this the evening of Wednesday, the 12th, before the Tour heads into the Pyrenees. Here's the stage 12 race profile:

Stage 12 profile

Just like yesterday, here's what stage winner Marcel Kittel's Quick-Step team had to say:

Quick-Step Floors celebrated another win at the biggest race in the world, which took the team's season tally to 40 victories.

What do Marcel Kittel and François Faber have in common? They're the only riders in the history of the Tour de France to have won at least five of the first 11 stages at a Tour de France edition. What makes it even more remarkable is that these extraordinary feats are separated by more than a century, until today no one getting close to this record that stood since the Luxembourger claimed a spectacular win in Nice, ahead of Jean Alavoine and Paul Duboc, on July 15 1909.

Fancois Faber

François Faber after winning the 1909 Tour de France

Equally spectacular was Marcel Kittel's fifth victory at the current edition of the Tour de France, which came in Pau, one of the most visited venues in the history of the race. On paper, it should have been an easy day for the peloton, who took off from Eymet at noon and allowed only three riders to join the breakaway: Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates).

The trio opened a five-minute gap over the bunch, but Gianluca Brambilla and Julien Vermote, together with riders from three other teams, moved to the head of proceedings and pulled the escapees back until they had them in their sight, with around 25 kilometers remaining. In that moment, Bodnar attacked his companions and forced the peloton to start a frantic chase on the narrow and twisty roads of Pau.

Jack Bauer, Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar put in some mammoth stints at the front and pegged the Pole back at ten seconds. Inside the final kilometer, Bodnar was still leading, but Fabio Sabatini proved his immense quality once again and closed the gap with 300 meters to go, before Marcel Kittel timed it to perfection and unleashed his huge acceleration on the finishing straight, which netted him victory number five at the 2017 Tour de France.

Marcel Kittel

Marcel Kittel wins stage 11.

Minutes after the crossing the line, an over-the-moon Marcel explained the anatomy of his sprint in Pau, which helped him extend his advantage in the points classification.

"In a sprint it's like a game of Tetris. In the last days I always got the right gaps, never made a mistake and all the sprinting lines were perfect. Today it wasn't easy, with 200 kilometers in store and ahead of a tough day in the mountains. Could have been worse with the winds, but the direction wasn't good for a crosswind", the German said. "In the final 500 meters, I was in the tenth position and looking for a wheel, so I jumped into Bouhanni's before moving into the wheel of Matthews. Then I just launched my sprint and that was that. To have so many wins at this Tour de France is incredible and makes me very happy!"

Kittel didn't forget his teammates, who gave him unwavering support on all the stages so far, be it flat or mountains, all playing a part in the five victories of Quick-Step Floors, an all-time record for the team managed by Patrick Lefevere at a Tour de France edition: "We have a lot of champions in the team and to have them working for me is a big motivation and huge honor. The boys were outstanding since the start of the Tour, rode their heart out for me and these victories are also for them. We are a great team and I think you could see that on every single stage."

Second-place Dylan Groenewegen's LottoNL-Jumbo squad sent me this report:

After his third place in stage 10, Dylan Groenewegen sprinted to second behind Marcel Kittel in stage 11 of the Tour de France in Pau today. Chris Froome keeps the lead in the overall classification, in which Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s George Bennett sits 10th place.

An adjustment in the sprint train almost brought Team LottoNL-Jumbo success. Groenewegen considered it a “strong” team effort. “Everyone had his part and rode well,” Groenewegen said. “We got a long way and I was dropped off in perfect position. I was in Kittel’s wheel, but he's just still a bit stronger.”

The sprints in the Tour are chaotic. None of the teams were really able to run out a textbook train so far. Team LottoNL-Jumbo decided to choose another tactic. Robert Wagner swapped positions with Timo Roosen and Groenewegen tried to anticipate Kittel by starting his sprint earlier.

“But Kittel did just the same," Groenewegen said. "Normally somebody loses a little bit of speed, but Kittel did not lose speed. He is the strongest at this moment and we have to hope he once makes a mistake.”

“Timo is slightly different than Robert Wagner,” Sports Director Nico Verhoeven explained. “He did a good job today. As a result of that, Dylan was in the right place, right in the wheel of Kittel. “In contrast to yesterday, Dylan could ride his own sprint. If you are as young as he is, and you finish in third and second place in the Tour de France, you are world-class.”

From 2016, Team LottoNL-Jumbo has been working on its sprint train project with Groenewegen. Its ambition was to win a stage in the 2018 Tour de France, but after last year’s Tour, the hope turned to 2017.

The Dutch sprinter, who has already won five times this year, might be able to snatch a stage win this year. The second and third places in the last two stages reinforce the team’s confidence.

“We were in the right place very early,” Timo Roosen said. “And we had the power to keep that position. We wanted to try something different. In the final, it is not always possible to do a good lead-out and sometimes you just have to get Dylan in the right wheel. We know he is able to win. Dylan is not so much weaker than Kittel. Kittel can make a mistake once like coming from too far back or having to brake. Hopefully that happens in this Tour and then everything is possible for us."

GC leader Chris Froome's Team Sky posted this report:

Chris Froome heads into the Pyrenees with an 18-second advantage after safely ticking off stage 11 at the Tour de France. Once again Team Sky did a superb job to keep their team leader out of trouble at the head of the race, all the while trying to conserve energy ahead of Thursday’s tough mountain test.

Spending his 50th day in Tour de France yellow, Froome crossed the line safely ensconced in the bunch, while up ahead Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) took out an emphatic fifth stage win of the event.

The 203.5km day proved less than straightforward at times, with Astana team-mates Jakob Fuglsang and Dario Cataldo, as well as Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) all hitting the deck.

Froome enjoyed strong protection, with the team also retaining their advantage in the team GC race. “It was a bit more nervous today, certainly more nervous than yesterday," Froome confirmed after the stage. "There’s always the threat of crosswinds, but they were never really enough to shake the race up.

“It was one of those days where you just have to stay concentrated, have to stay up front, and my team-mates were great at doing that. All day they were on it, keeping me in a great position. Thanks to them.

Chris Froome

Will Froome be able to add to his stuffed lion collection after stage 12?

“We’ve got two uphill finishes left and tomorrow’s one of them. It’s definitely going to help shape the GC even further I think.

“On our behalf I don’t think we really want to let any people come back onto GC, so it’s going to be about controlling things from the start and not allowing any of the GC guys who have lost time already to come back into the game.

Asked if he was planning an attack, Froome concluded: “I don’t need to at this point… but let’s see out on the road.”

Three riders attacked immediately to make up the day’s breakaway, with Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe) pushing on solo to cause real problems for the peloton. The Pole was only reeled in with 400 metres to go, with Kittel arriving late to overhaul Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo).

Thursday's stage sees the action move back into the mountains, with six categorised climbs, culminating in a tough Port de Bales/Col de Peyresourde double.

Astana had two riders crash in stage 11. Here's their update:

Two Astana Proteam riders, Dario Cataldo and Jakob Fuglsang, crashed in the middle of the distance of stage 11 of the Tour de France shortly after passing the feeding zone.

Cataldo was forced to quit the race and after crash he was immediately moved to the hospital in the city of Pau. Fuglsang was able to continue the race and finished in the main group. Right after the finish he was sent to the hospital as well for a detailed medical checking.

Dario Cataldo was diagnosed with a small fracture in the scaphoid bone of the left hand and a lot of contusions and abrasions of the left side of the body. His left wrist was fixed for a few weeks.

Jakob Fuglsang was diagnosed with two very small fractures: in the left scaphoid and in the head of the radius of the left elbow. Despite these injures, tomorrow Jakob is going to start at stage 12 of the Tour de France.

German rider Marcel Kittel became the winner of the stage (Eymet – Pau, 203,5 km) in a bunch sprint. Fabio Aru finished the race in the peloton.

Still no changes in the general classification with Chris Froome as the leader, Fabio Aru as second and Jakob Fuglsang as 5th.

The race heads back in the mountains with stage 12: 214,5 km from Pau to Peyragudes.

Alberto Contador is having a rough Tour. Here's his team's report:

It was supposed to be another day, a flat sprint stage at the Tour de France, for Alberto Contador to continue to recover from his crashes in stage nine, but twice during stage eleven, he found himself on the ground again.

The first was a result of an incident in the feed zone and also involved John Degenkolb, Haimar Zubeldia as well as Contador, but it was minor, and all three got going with little problems.

Then, at 20 kilometers from the end of the stage, Contador could not avoid teammate Michael Gogl who unexpectedly fell in front of him, this time landing with a bigger impact. 

While Jarlinson Pantano paced Contador back to the peloton, Gogl – taking the worst of the crash - slowly picked himself from the tarmac and continued, but never regained the bunch.

"I fell like a stone," explained Gogl. "My gears slipped just as I was accelerating out of a corner and I fell while going full gas. Unfortunately, I took down Alberto as well. It was the second time for him today, so really not a good day for us."

"I am very sore, scrapes and bruises, but there is nothing broken. I am really happy about that because I went down very hard," he reiterated.

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador before the start of stage 7

Contador made it back to the peloton but wonders what he needs to do to escape the black cloud that seemingly hangs over his head. "I've never believed in bad luck, but this Tour is putting me to the limit, especially psychologically," said Contador incredulously. "But I will say this, people who may think I'm going to give up is that they do not know me."

"I have received some pretty strong blows again, especially in the hip. Let's see how I pass the rest of the day. Obviously, this makes everything more complicated for the Pyrenees, but like I said, I'm not going to give up. Now I have to be even stronger and with more determination -  that's how I'm going to manage this situation.

"This does not help at all, and yes, we will have to wait for the Alps, but my morale is always high, mostly for the affection of all people. Let's see what we can do during the rest of the Tour."

Contador rejoined the bunch, which soon kicked into high gear in pursuit of the last of the breakaway.

In the final kilometers, John Degenkolb was unable to break through the chaos and finished out of the running.  Where yesterday he caught a break, today his efforts were foiled, but he shrugged it off, knowing more days, more opportunities, are still ahead.

"I was trying my best, but it was just a little too hectic today. I was a little far back, and I always had to go around [to move up], and that cost me a lot of energy. Yeah. Next time," said Degenkolb, then added, "Saturday maybe."

Here's the update White Jersey Simon Yate's Orica-Scott team sent me:

British climber Simon Yates is looking forward to round-two in the mountains from tomorrow following another day successfully defending his best young rider white jersey on stage 11 of the Tour de France today.

The flat parcours and dominance of Marcel Kittel (Quickstep Floors), who took his fifth sprint stage victory, seemed like another simple day in the saddle for onlookers, but Yates admitted there was some nerves in the peloton.

“It wasn’t an easy day out there today,” Yates explained. “There was a bit of wind today and that was causing some stress in the bunch. Guys are always fighting for good position. Particularly in the final it becomes more stressful and fast-paced. For sure I will enjoy tomorrow a bit more than today, less stress and more in my territory on the climbs.”

Simon Yates

Simon Yates is looking forward to the big stuff in stage 12.

Tomorrow is the second of the three summit finishes at the 2017 Tour de France. The final category two climb into Peyragudes is proceeded by five other summits, include two category-one and a hors category climb.

The ORICA-SCOTT rider anticipated an aggressive day on the road. “I think tomorrow will be very similar to the other mountain stages,” Yates predicted. “There’s going to be a lot of guys who are looking for the breakaway at the beginning so I’m sure it’ll be a very hard start.”

“Then I think there will be guys wanting to take some time out of Chris (Froome) in the final so I’m predicting another really hard day. At the beginning, I will follow the big guys who are up there in the GC but I hope I have good legs and if I do and I see a good opportunity in the final there, maybe I can try something.”

How it happened:

Today’s stage 11 of the Tour de France was another flat stage over 200km and despite some nerves in the peloton, the stage finished with another expected bunch sprint.

A small breakaway of three riders went off the front immediately but the trio were held in control by the peloton for the entire day.

Bora-Hansgrohe rider Maciej Bodnar was the brave solo survivor from the breakaway, adding some extra action to the finish as he held on until the final 250m of the stage.

But it wasn’t to be as the sprinters sailed past, with Kittel stealing the honours yet again.

And finally, here's Team BMC's stage 11 news:

12 July, 2017, Pau (FRA): After testing his legs in the sprint on stage 10, Danilo Wyss sprinted to tenth place on stage 11 of the Tour de France in a sprint that was almost upset by the breakaway.

Three riders went clear when the flag dropped on the 203.5km stage and the peloton quickly sat up to allow their advantage to grow to a maximum of 4'45".

Strong winds threatened to split the peloton during the stage but it was only crashes that caused chaos throughout the day. With the nervous peloton closing in on the leading trio inside the final 30km of racing, Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe) attacked from the breakaway and maintained the advantage of 40 seconds over the bunch.

With 5km to go, Bodnar's advantage was still 20 seconds but the sprinters' teams were determined to see another bunch sprint play out and Bodnar was swept up 200 meters before the line.

Wyss was well-positioned in the technical finale, with multiple corners, and sprinted to the first top ten finish in his Tour de France career.

Danilo Wyss:

"There was a bit of a crosswind so the second part of the stage was a bit stressful, but not as much as I expected. It was quite ok and then it was headwind in the last 20km so we caught the breakaway and went for the sprint."

"Like yesterday, I had good legs and good feelings. I tried again to sprint. It was a bit hectic with all of the turns but I liked it. It was a bit better for me and I could find my way up the middle. Tenth place, it's ok for me, it's good."

"We have two hard mountains stages coming now so it's going to be completely different. I think tomorrow is a good day for the breakaway so they could stay away."

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