5 things to know about Tour de France
ALBI, France -- Five things to know as the Tour de France enters its eighth stage on Saturday:
1. SLOGGING SPRINTERS -- The sprinting stars faded in Friday's Stage 7. While they've each won a stage already, Britain's Mark Cavendish and German pair Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel were left behind over four mid-grade climbs -- and the one top sprinter who does get over the ascents easier, Slovakia's Peter Sagan, won the stage. The tally? After more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) of racing, only two finishes have pitted the best sprinters. They'll be even more inconspicuous in the mountains this weekend.
2. ALBI BACK -- Friday's 205.5-kilometer (128-mile) trek from Montpellier took riders to Albi, the 12th time the Tour has ended a stage in the medieval city that ranks among UNESCO World Heritage sites, in part for its towering Sainte-Cecile Cathedral and 11th century Old Bridge. For AG2R rider Blel Kadri, who seized the polka-dot jersey awarded to the Tour's best climber on Friday, it was a homecoming of sorts -- the French rider got his cycling license in Albi and said his success Friday was rewarding because "people know me" here.
3. DANGER AT EVERY TURN: When riders zoom along the roads of France it is difficult enough controlling the bikes without thinking about the potential perils on the roadside. Thousands of fans line the route every day: American veteran Christian Vande Velde said "the dangerous thing about it is people not understanding how fast we're actually going ... there should be like a public announcement on TV, like: `This could happen to you." For Vande Velde those scary days in the saddle will soon be a thing of the past. This was always going to be the 37-year-old's last Tour -- and it ended badly for him when he crashed Friday and had to pull out
4. PYRENEAN PUNISHMENT -- After a grueling climb up the 2,000-meter (6,500-foot) Pailheres pass, Saturday's piece de resistance in the entree to the Pyrenees mountains is an uphill finish at Ax 3 Domaines. The Tour has had three previous finishes at the ski station -- or four, if you include neighboring Plateau de Bonascre -- and all since the turn of the 21st century. The 1,372-meter peak looms over Ax-les-Thermes, a town with a history that stretches to Roman times and is known for its healing waters. It was home to a hospital built in the 13th century to help care for returning soldiers who contracted leprosy during the Crusades in Palestine, according to the town's website.
5. READING THE TEJAY LEAVES -- Tejay Van Garderen, who took home the white jersey as the race's best young rider in his Tour debut last year, predicts a shake-up Saturday. With the Pyrenees only hosting two stages, it's the Alps in the third week that could play a bigger role in determining the race winner on Paris' Champs-Elysees on July 21. Many cycling aficionados believe Britain's Chris Froome and Alberto Contador of Spain are the favorites. Van Garderen is still maturing and he's primarily riding in support of BMC team leader and 2011 Tour winner Cadel Evans of Australia. But that hasn't stopped the 24-year-old American from predicting a battle along the 195 kilometers (121 miles) from Castres to Ax 3 Domaines on Saturday. He says it "depends if people want to hold their cards close to their chests or if they want to come out swinging on the first mountain day. I expect for them to come out swinging -- so there should probably be some big gaps."
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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