5 things to know about Tour de France
MONT-SAINT-MICHEL, France -- Five things to know as the Tour de France enters its 12th stage on Thursday:
1. TIME ON THEIR SIDE: Tony Martin took a speedy 36 minutes to complete the Stage 11 time trial. Then he had to wait more than 4 hours on Wednesday to find out nobody beat his time and he'd won the first individual time-trial of the Tour. The world time-trial champion sensed he had only one main rival: Chris Froome of Britain, who was third -- after Martin -- at the Olympic time trial in London last year. Froome, as the overall race leader, set off last in Wednesday's stage and finished second to Martin by just 12 seconds. But the British rider also scored his own victory: He cemented his hold on the yellow jersey by gaining time on his top rivals for the overall title.
2. GERMAN GESTALT?: Martin's win has given Germans more than one third of the stage victories this year. Marcel Kittel won the first and 10th stages, and fellow sprinter Andre Greipel won Stage 6. Some Germans have shunned the Tour after doping cases in recent years ensnared riders like Patrick Sinkewitz, Stefan Schumacher and once-beloved 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich. A German state broadcaster that once aired the Tour hasn't renewed its contract, consigning race coverage to cable in Germany.
3. ALPINE ATTACKS: While Froome leads key rivals Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde of Spain by more than three minutes, he expects relentless attacks when the race reaches the Alps in the third week after two flat stages on Thursday and Friday, then a hilly stage on Saturday. Froome's solid performance on Wednesday underlined his status as the favorite to win the race in Paris on July 21 -- he at least doubled the gap on the two Spaniards. The 2011 champion, Cadel Evans of Australia, is nearly 7 minutes back. They have to try something, and Froome knows it: "I'm sure other teams are really going to test us." Three Alpine stages run from July 18-20 featuring a total of eight massive climbs. Evans suggested it's not over. "I think we will get a few chances ... in the last four days, we will give everything."
4. COASTLINE CRUISING: This 100th Tour has been one of the most beach-combing Tours in recent memory. Seven stages have had finishes with a view of the sea or almost: Three in Corsica, two on the Mediterranean coast of France's mainland and two on the English Channel. The grand finale of seaside stages came Wednesday at Mont-Saint-Michel. It could be the last appearance for a while for the eye-popping island citadel on the Tour's itinerary. French officials have begun a vast renovation of its access route to the site to retain its maritime feel. The race guidebook says Mont-Saint-Michel is subject to the biggest tidal swings -- up to 49 feet between high and low tides -- in continental Europe.
5. BEAUTY'S BACKSTORY -- For all the picturesque TV and photographic images on Wednesday, the back story is more complex. The grassy marshland venue was muddy. Riders had to negotiate a dusty gravel road -- until now used by earth-movers on the construction site -- to return to their team cars after the finish. Idled backhoes and bulldozers sat parked in formation atop a levee, a silhouette against a clear blue sky and the majestic island backdrop. The upshot: Tour organizers this year have been as ambitious as ever in designing a scenic route, starting with the race's debut on bucolic Corsica -- where the Tour entourage got around by ferryboat. Still, it's brought some headache. Garmin-Sharp's Daniel Martin admired the "spectacular" setting for Wednesday's finish, but said: "I'm not too keen on these gravel roads to get back to the team cars." Manager Patrick Lefevere of Omega Pharma-QuickStep, said the dust didn't bother him. "That's more a problem for my mechanics because they have to clean the cars this evening."
AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire contributed.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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