Category: Tour de France

Teams balk at UCI’s proposed Tour de France qualifying rules

Teams are raising the alarm ahead of an ambitious makeover of Tour de France qualifying rules set to be introduced as part of a larger UCI reform targeted for 2020.

Speaking ahead of a planned sit-down this week in Madrid between cycling’s major stakeholders, team representatives are insisting the UCI’s proposed reforms are missing the big picture. Instead of tweaking the rules of the game, teams want a complete makeover of cycling’s economic model.

Since his election last year, UCI president David Lappartient has been quietly pushing an ambitious reform agenda that could be ratified by the end of this year and rolled out by 2020. If approved, the reform would shake up the World Tour and reduce the number of top teams from 18 to 15. Among other actions, the reorganization would create a qualifying system that would open the door for more second-tier teams to compete in major races such as the Tour and other grand tours.

Teams are pushing back, however, saying the reforms stop short of what’s really needed.

Speaking to VeloNews, AIGCP vice president Richard Plugge said teams want a broader discussion about economics and revenues before getting bogged down on technical rules and regulations.

“It is the wrong way around. We should first look at the business model,” Plugge said. “You cannot talk about rules when many teams are in danger of not existing next year. First, we should have our economics in order.”

VeloNews reached out to the UCI for comment and did not immediately hear back.

Plugge’s comments come just as the UCI is holding a major meeting this week in Spain where representatives from teams, riders and race organizers will hear an update on the cycling federation’s sweeping reform.

Discussions of change began inside the UCI headquarters last year following the election of Lappartient. The UCI hopes to have the plan approved within the next few months, but teams officials say they were not given a detailed presentation of the wide-ranging proposal until a meeting held after the conclusion of the 2018 Giro d’Italia. The UCI’s urgent push for dramatic change is catching the teams off-guard, team representatives said.

“Why make a plan when the big stakeholders are not involved in it?” Plugge said. “The UCI is there to facilitate everyone in cycling. Why not bundle the knowledge of the teams and organizers and talk with the most important guys all together before making rules about the sport?”

Plugge said the UCI proposal stops well short of taking on larger issues of an economic model that would include bundling TV rights or creating new revenue streams to help stabilize teams. Instead, Plugge said the reform focuses too much on new rules and regulations, rather than addressing more pressing problems.

Plugge said the teams, working under the AIGCP, as well as race organizers, have insisted on having a larger voice in the discussion of the future of the sport.

“In these discussions, we were not invited to talk to the UCI. That is our big frustration,” Plugge said. “All of the teams are very united to create more parity and a sustainable future for the pro ranks. The organizers are on the same page. But we do not have a seat at the table.”

The proposed UCI reforms could change the way Pro Continental teams gain access to grand tours. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

The teams are not opposed to everything the UCI is proposing. Outlined in a wide-ranging document that the UCI has presented to teams, the cycling governing body is pressing to make important changes that teams support.

For example, the UCI is pushing forward with its fight against technological cheating as well as a perceived threat of unregulated betting. The UCI vows to enhance video monitoring of races to implement rules and infractions. Teams support these measures.

Also outlined are ambitious plans on the anti-doping front, including a request to WADA to ban Tramadol and other painkillers, more stringent medical checks, mandatory rest days for low cortisone levels and a push to require provisionary suspensions in the wake of adverse analytical findings and anti-doping violations. Teams back those measures as well.

The document also spells out the creation of a sport-wide centralized commercial digital platform under the UCI where teams and race organizers could earn additional revenue and profit. That effort could push up against the Velon project and many of the commercial digital platforms that individual teams and races have already developed.

Teams are worried about the fine details of the plan, however. The reform calls for the WorldTour to shrink from 18 teams to 15. It outlines a qualification system based on a season-long points rankings that would replace the current WorldTour ranking. Licenses would be distributed based on each team’s rankings. The UCI has also proposed a relegation/promotion system similar to that of European soccer leagues, in which the lowest-ranked teams in the sport’s highest tier are relegated to a lower tier.

Pro Continental teams would be reorganized as “Pro Teams” that would race on a parallel calendar. The top five teams could earn guaranteed grand tour berths over a 12-month qualifying period. Race organizers would still have two “wild card” invitations for the major races. That’s certainly good news for smaller teams trying to elbow onto a grand tour start list.

Details remain opaque and more of the fine print is expected to be revealed Wednesday in Madrid.

The UCI’s reform push comes as teams were already bristling at rules imposed this season that reduced team rosters from nine to eight for grand tours and from eight to seven for other races. Though the impact on racing dynamics is debatable, teams said it forced them to squeeze their rosters and reduce the numbers of riders.

Speaking to VeloNews during the Vuelta a España, Sky principal Dave Brailsford said his team is likely to reduce its roster for 2019 and questioned the logic behind the rule changes.

“People’s solution seems to be to reduce the sport, the number of competitors, reduce the number of race days, caps — it’s all about reduction,” Brailsford said. “I just don’t buy it. My view would be let’s work together to get the smaller teams more money and grow toward the bigger teams. Make the sport bigger — the reductionist view does not sit happily with me.”

The tug-of-war between the teams, the UCI and race organizers is nothing new. Many of the same questions that Plugge and Brailsford have raised have been debated for decades. The UCI, under three previous presidents from Hein Verbruggen to Pat McQuaid to Brian Cookson, were unable to challenge the economic status quo.

Race organizers foot most of the bills to run the events but gain nearly all of the financial benefits. Without stadiums to sell tickets, organizers derive income from TV rights, sponsorships, and fees charged to host cities. Most races don’t make much money, with the exception of the ASO-owned Tour de France. Estimates vary, but profits are said to between $40 million to $100 million annually.

Teams argue they are the ones bringing money to the table. They pay the salaries of the riders as well as underwrite the infrastructure to support the athletes, from team buses to staffers to travel expenses and equipment. Teams say they collectively fork out up to $400 million annually but have little voice in the current power structure.

Previous efforts to try to organize teams around a singular and independent league have not gained much footing. This latest round of reform, however, is galvanizing the teams to take a stronger stand to press for cooperative change.

“The reform should be equal between the stakeholders, not just affecting one stakeholder in favor of another stakeholder,” said Trek-Segafredo general manager Luca Guercilena. “I believe there is a certain unbalance. If I see all the costs the teams have to carry, to see which real power we have, it is really unbalanced.”

The UCI document argues that the reforms will make teams more stable and enhance the financial underpinnings of the sport. The reform document also hints that the larger economic questions will be addressed in the future.

Plugge said he is hopeful the UCI will listen to ideas teams and race organizers offered during the past several weeks leading up to Wednesday’s meeting.

“We gave them the ideas. We said there are good things in there, and there are a lot of things to improve,” Plugge said. “Hopefully the UCI will listen Wednesday. The teams are very united on this. They cannot push something to our side of the table and just expect us to jump when they say jump.”

If the UCI and the teams cannot find some common ground this week, it could set the stage for another ugly power struggle within cycling’s ranks. Plugge said the teams are willing to cooperate and hope it doesn’t come to a standoff.

“We will see how the meeting will go,” Plugge said. “We have to trust the UCI that we can work together. We have to give them a chance to talk to us and present these plans. And then we can make conclusions afterward.”

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Commentary: Should a cycling journalist earn France’s highest honor?

Editors’ Note: Author Samuel Abt was a long-time sports journalist and columnist for the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. He covered the Tour de France and other professional cycling events  for more than 30 years. A long-time resident of the Paris area, Abt retired several years ago. Below, he speculates on why more writers and journalists have not received the Legion d’honneur, France’s highest decoration for individual distinction.

Francisco Franco, dictator and oppressor, was awarded it. Benito Mussolini, ditto both in job description and award. Nicolae Ceaucescu, the Romanian despot, and Manuel Noriega, drug kingpin of Panama, were awarded it although Noriega’s was revoked while he was in a U.S. prison. Vladimir Putin, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone have won it.

I haven’t.

“It” is the Legion d’honneur, France’s highest decoration for individual distinction and/or service to the state.

Who says I don’t serve? They also serve who only stand and wait, the poet John Milton wrote. I‘m standing. I’m waiting.

Where’s my reward?

For decades I wrote about races ranging from the three-week Tour de France to the three-hour Grand Prix of Puteaux. I’ve interviewed riders descending from Eddy Merckx (525 victories on the road) to Axel Merckx (6 victories). Yes, I delight in writing time and again that no Frenchman has won the Tour since 1986. On the other hand, my work has long celebrated the country’s landscape, its food and wine, even its cheeses. Who doesn’t recall my ode to Camembert after a Paris-Vimoutiers race? Or my prose poem to the chickens of Bresse during a Tour visit to Burgundy.

Again, where’s my reward? Writers can delight in their own graceful turn of phrase or piercing insight and they can also be fragile and need to know that others appreciate their words, that they have informed, even charmed readers. In short, I believe that writers appreciate recognition.

There’s the case for me to get the Legion d’honneur’s red ribbon in my buttonhole, not simply to impress my concierge. By now, though. I accept that it won’t happen. No matter; I have decorations enough: I’ve won both the medal and the tray of the Tour de France. (I’ve told this story before, so if it sounds overly familiar, scroll to the race reports. If not, as they say in swashbuckler movies, let’s away.)

The Tour is also big on service, which is why I got my tray for 30 years of it. By “service” Tour officials basically meant that I had shown up each year all that time. While wiseacres say that 80 percent of success is showing up, in the Tour that rises to 100 percent. Be there for 20 years, whether as a journalist, team official or driver of the broom wagon, and you win the medal. Thirty years and it’s the tray.

It’s a small one, the kind that informal homes of yesteryear sat on a table near the front door for visitors to leave their calling cards. Hardly anybody uses calling cards now, so the tray is sort of useless. They told me that it was silver.

Jean-Marie Leblanc, then in his last year as the race’s director, gave me the tray in 2006 in Tarbes and I have official photographs showing the presentation, including kisses from him on both my cheeks. Very French.

Leblanc was to have given me the tray the day before he actually did but he lost track of time while he was, I kid you not, inspecting some prize cows in the VIP area. When he remembered me and my tray-to-be, the stage was ready to start, so I was told the presentation would be held the next day.

Which it was, kisses and all. The date was July 12, according to a press release I still have, and that is puzzling. July 12 has no significance for me; as an American, and a patriotic one at that, I would have preferred July 4.

The Fourth was, in fact, the day in 1996 I chose to receive my medal for 20 years of service and it was in fact, no prize cows grazing nearby, the day it was presented.

The medal is heavy, brown, the size of a cocktail coaster. It does not have a ribbon, so cannot be worn around town. Like the tray, the medal has my name on it, but more about that in a bit.

Recipients usually have a claque to applaud at the ceremony and I invited, among others, Lance Armstrong. He said he would try to be there but no promises because of his team schedule before the start. In the event, Motorola had not shown up when I received the medal from Bernard Hinault, then a Tour public relations official.

As we stood on the platform, Hinault mumbled something that I didn’t catch. I nodded in agreement anyway. The Motorola team arrived just as the ceremony ended. Spotting Armstrong nearby, I left the platform and hurried over to crow about the medal. “Nice,” he said. “How do I get one of them?”

“Put in your 20 years and it’s yours,” I replied.

Suddenly the medal was whipped from my hand by an official. Unlike Hinault, he did not mumble although the message was undoubtedly the same: The medal had to be returned immediately after the ceremony since it was the only one traveling with the race and had to be awarded countless more times.

“We’ll send you your medal with your name on it in a few months,” the official promised. Sure enough, the medal had no name on it. Knowing all too well the French insouciance about names, dates and other facts, I gave the official my business card. My name is often misspelled with a “p” where the “b” should be and I wanted them to get it right.

Not to worry. A few months later the medal arrived in the mail and my family name was correctly engraved. Michel Abt, 1996, the medal said. Michel! Very French.

I sent the thing back and asked for a correction. In time, another medal, accurate in all details, arrived. I put it in the drawer where I keep my socks and have rarely looked at it since. Certainly I would treat the Legion d’honneur with more reverence.

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Geraint Thomas eager to enjoy Tour of Britain after whirlwind month

• Tour de France winner plays down chances of winning race
• ‘I’ve not done much in the last month, I’m knackered’

Geraint Thomas is apparently on the point of signing a new contract with Team Sky but is unlikely to take any decision over whether or not he claims team leadership in defending his Tour de France title until November at the earliest, the Welshman said as he prepared to take on the eight-day Tour of Britain, which will probably be his final challenge of the season.

“I haven’t signed with Sky yet but we are pretty close, I’m happy in the team and it has worked well for me I think,” he said. “I’m not thinking about next year too much. Come November we will sit down and see the routes for the different races, the Giro and Tour, make a plan and go from there.”

Related: Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas gears up for home race

Related: Vuelta a España: Alejandro Valverde takes stage eight to cut Rudy Molard’s lead

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Froome says his ultimate goal is to win another Tour

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Chris Froome’s “biggest goal” remaining in his career is winning a fifth Tour de France title to join a select group of four cyclists who have achieved the record in cycling.

Froome just completed the 2018 Tour third overall behind winner and teammate Geraint Thomas and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). It ends a run of four grand tours, which saw him win the Tour for a fourth time in 2017, the 2017 Vuelta a España, and the 2018 Giro d’Italia.

“I’m grateful for everything so far that I’ve done in the sport, but if I can carry on and try to get a fifth Tour de France victory, it’d be special to be in that elite group of guys who won five Tours,” Froome told Sporza. “That would be my biggest goal.”

Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven straight times, but authorities later stripped him of the titles for doping.

The record of five Tour wins is held by four of cycling’s greats: Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Indurain.

Froome, 33, wants to race for another four to five years, perhaps until 2023. After the upcoming Tour of Britain, he could decide his 2019 schedule.

“It’s hard to say what the plan will be next year, but I imagine that the Tour de France and aiming for a fifth Tour de France will be my priority next year,” Froome added.

“Thomas said he would race the Giro? Really? I might go and try to defend the jersey, the title from this year and we’ll have another good race! No, I’m joking!

“But seriously, I haven’t thought much about what next year will hold, but I’m sure we can make it work, we are good friends, we are honest with each other, that’s what a team is about, you find a way to move forward and do something like we did in this Tour de France.”

Froome fought and defended himself after a doping control at last year’s Vuelta a España showed his urine over the limit for asthma drug salbutamol. At times in the 2018 Giro, he seemed to be off his best, perhaps thinking about the case that would eventually see him cleared before the Tour.

He explained, “I’d like to think it didn’t impact it, but I’m sure on some level in terms of my focus and my preparations, I’m sure it did have an impact somewhere, but I don’t like to tell myself that maybe that is the reason I was not as good as I shouldn’t have been.”

Froome managed to come from behind in an 80.3-kilometer solo attack in stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia to take the stage win and the pink jersey. He won the race two days later in Rome.

He attempted to win the Giro/Tour double in 2018 to become only the eighth rider to do so. He was not his usual super self, but still managed to help Thomas win the Tour and ride himself onto the podium in third in Paris.

“Double again in 2019? I really think it’s too early to say,” said Froome. “We need to see the parcours, the timings, how everything is going to work and see what Geraint wants to aim for, and what I can go for, and see how we can match it up and make it work.”

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Video: Global Cycling Network previews 2014 Tour de France

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ASO’s course designer promises more Tour surprises

Tour de France organizers threw a bit of everything at the peloton this summer, from cobblestones to gravel roads to a short climbing stage of just 65 kilometers to classic, five-climb stages across the Pyrénées.

Thierry Gouvenou, the man who hunts out France’s unknown corners as the Tour’s lead course designer, said to expect more of the same for 2019.

“We are always looking to change things and innovate,” Gouvenou said. “We want to change the model of the way things used to be and to create something interesting for the fans and the riders.”

Gouvenou, 49, is the technical director for not only the Tour de France but all of ASO’s cycling properties. A former pro, he works alongside race director Christian Prudhomme and a team within the Tour organization to design the race routes. He took over the role from Jean-Francois Pescheux in 2014.

Each Tour route is a work in progress that can take years to develop. Prudhomme helps fill out the broad scope of the route, designating the starting point and broad direction of the race between different parts of France. It’s up to Gouvenou to fill in the blanks.

Gouvenou said the race is committed to bringing innovation to the Tour route without losing its historical roots.

“We are always looking to bring something unpredictable,” he told VeloNews. “It’s to break the tactics of the teams and to force them to race in a different way.”

This summer’s big innovation was the three-climb, 65km stage across the Pyrénées. The Formula 1-style grid start was a bit of a misfire, but the short stage delivered on its promise to shake things up.

The success of the shorter, potentially more explosive mountain stages introduced during the past few years means they are here to stay. Gouvenou was quick to add that the longer, multi-climb routes across France’s most challenging climbs won’t be going away. In fact, it was the longer, more traditional mountain stages that delivered more punch this year.

“The shorter stages will continue in the Tour, but there will be longer stages, too,” he said. “Now it’s going to be a mix between the longer and shorter stages. The average is around 180km, but always have a few that are longer and some that are much shorter. We will have a spectrum of types of courses at our disposal.”

Gouvenou and his staff are already putting the finishing touches on the 2019 Tour route, which will be revealed during the Tour’s traditional route presentation in October.

What we know now is that the race will start July 6 in Brussels for the second time in Tour history to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first of five Tour wins by Eddy Merckx. The race will open with a road stage reaching across the Flanders and Wallonne regions, giving sprinters a chance for the yellow jersey. The second stage will be a 24km team time trial, a format that always proves decisive in the GC.

After that, it’s a blank map.

Beyond that there are rumors of things to come for 2019. There are already whispers of a return of Mont Ventoux and the Vosges and perhaps a climbing time trial. More gravel? Sure, why not. Though the direction has yet to be set, logic would suggest the Alps would come first unless the route takes the long way around to feature the Pyrénées first. Per modern tradition, the Tour will end on the Champs-Élysées on July 28.

Gouvenou wouldn’t give anything away just yet.

“You have to wait to Paris!” he said, refereeing October’s presentation. “I can promise you, there will be a few surprises.”

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Commentary: The French resolution

Editors’ Note: Samuel Abt was a long-time sports journalist and columnist for the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. He covered the Tour de France and other professional cycling events in an inimitable, signature style for more than 30 years. He has also written numerous books about the sport, including detailed biographies of Americans Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong. A long-time resident of the Paris area, Abt retired several years ago and rarely writes now, but he is still widely recognized as the “dean” of American cycling journalism. We were pleased that he recently sent over this piece on the state of French professional racing.

Sigh. Another Tour de France is behind us, another page torn from the calendar, and another failure by French riders to win their home race. How long has it been? Not since Bernard Hinault finished first in 1985 has the military band on the Champs-Élysées been able to break into “La Marseillaise” to honor the victor’s country.

It’s not for lack of trying; a few French riders showed flashes of the will, if not often the ability, to win. But the Frenchmen who gave their all for victory were really the Tour’s organizers. The worst kept secret this year was that the route was tailored for a specific French rider, Romain Bardet, who had finished on the final podium in the previous two years.

Because Bardet is a good climber, in came fierce stretches in the mountains. Because he is a lame time trialer, out went all but one relatively short individual race against the clock. (He finished 22nd.)

All to no avail. The highest French finisher was indeed Bardet, sixth overall in his fifth top 10 in five Tours, including second place in 2016 and third in 2017. See why the course was built for him? More than that was needed, however, as bad luck dogged him: a costly mechanical breakdown in Brittany, three flats in the Roubaix stage, the early loss of Ag2r teammates. It became painful to watch his daily interview on television as he tried to sound chipper about his dwindling chances, smiling — sort of — through the tears.

Who else did well and may yet do so again? Nestled in 33rd place overall in Paris was Julian Alaphilippe, winner of two mountain stages and the polka-dot climber’s jersey, enough of a haul to stir the sluggish national pulse. It doesn’t take much.

Nearly two generations have come of age without the chance to wear anything like the blue T-shirt proclaiming “We Are The Champions” that sprouted after the soccer World Cup. It’s been 33 years, folks. Hinault is such a distant memory that he is now known mainly as a television pitchman for a plumbing company that transforms bathtubs into showers.

Bardet pledges to do better next year and so, no doubt, do the race organizers. They have long been hunkered down to design the stages from the start in Brussels, which will honor both Eddy Merckx on the 50th anniversary of the first of his five Tour victories and the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the leader’s yellow jersey.

When the 2019 route is announced in October, which French rider will it be tailored for? There seem to be few choices other than Bardet and Alaphilippe.

Much will depend on which way the race heads out of Belgium. If it follows the tradition of Alps-first this time, Pyrenees-first next time, the 2019 edition should head left across the north of France before plunging toward Spain. That trajectory would favor neither Frenchman. What would is a route south out of Belgium toward the Alps and, first, the Vosges Mountains, which are not strenuous enough — the Grand Ballon is its top peak at 1,424 meters — to demand a strong support team for a climber. That fits Alaphilippe, whose Quick Step roster is built for stage victories on the flat or nearly flat. (The Vosges terrain should benefit Alaphilippe, as he showed by winning the up and down Clásica San Sebástian in August.)

Quick-Step, or whoever is the main sponsor next year, should also excel in the second stage, a team time trial, giving Alaphilippe an early psychological edge. If he needs a booster shot in the Alps, perhaps the organizers, the Amaury Sport Organization, could eliminate a massive climb or two. Despite his polka-dot jersey, he showed signs of strain late in this year’s mountains.

Moreover, he is a mediocre time trialer, so don’t expect an abundance of races against the clock. There will be no prologue. Forget the cobblestones next year. Forget the inane Formula One starting grid. Climbs, climbs, climbs, well spaced and less than dominating, that’s the ticket to building a French contender.

Alaphilippe? Bardet? (Him again?) Thibaut Pinot, third in 2014 and a no-show in 2018? Somebody? Anybody?

As Geraint Thomas reminded the crowd in his victory speech, he finished 140th and next to last in his first Tour in 2007. Perhaps there was an obscure French rider sunk deep in the overall classification this year who will bloom like Thomas. Be patient. Give him a dozen years to break the hex. Sigh.

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Team Sky’s Gianni Moscon escapes sack over Tour de France incident

  • UCI gives Moscon five-week suspension for Gespert incident
  • Team Sky ‘confident he has learnt from this episode’

Gianni Moscon has been handed a five-week suspension from the UCI after he was thrown out of the Tour de France for trying to punch another rider – but he will keep his job at Team Sky.

Moscon, 24, was disqualified following an incident that occurred in the opening kilometre during stage 15 of the Tour de France from Millau to Carcassone. Video footage showed Moscon raising his fist to the French rider Élie Gesbert and the race commissaires said the Italian had been disqualified for “particularly serious aggression”.

Related: What next for Geraint Thomas and Team Sky after his Tour triumph?

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Impatient Porte already eyeing 2019 Tour

Crashing out of the Tour de France hurts for any pro. For Richie Porte, his early exit stung even more after watching how the race unfolded and the circumstances of how he left the race.

The 33-year-old Tasmanian was on the form of his life, yet after crashing out in a freak spill just 10km into stage 9, he could only wonder what might have happened had he made it to Paris.

“That’s when it all hit me,” Porte said Monday, describing the emotion of leaving the Tour. “All that preparation, all the training camps, all the work, all behind-scenes work from the staffers — all for nothing for another year. All of a sudden it’s gone. It’s a cruel, cruel sport.”

Speaking to journalists via a phone call Monday, Porte said he resumed training 10 days ago and confirmed he will make a run at the Vuelta a España and world championships.

Yet it’s the Tour de France — this year’s and next — that’s central on Porte’s mind.

“It was disappointing to crash out of another Tour and be at home watching on the sofa again,” Porte said. “Leaving the Tour was probably harder than last year … especially how the Tour unfolded this year. As soon as it went up to the mountains and Sky took control, we figured that’s how the race would have turned out. It would have been an ideal scenario for us.”

The BMC Racing captain is recovering well from a fractured right clavicle that saw him exit the Tour on stage 9, but it might be awhile before he can overcome the bitter disappointment and frustration of being forced out of the Tour for the second straight year. Months of preparation and hard work were squelched in a second.

“It was a major disappointment not to be there,” Porte said. “This year’s crash; I didn’t even see it coming. I didn’t even have a chance to touch the brakes.”

Porte rode into the 2018 Tour in perhaps the best form of his life. Hot off winning the Tour de Suisse, he seemed poised to take it to Sky and Chris Froome. Some early stage jitters inside the bunch on the highly anticipated cobblestone stage, however, saw Porte crash out even before reaching the pavé.

Porte sat on the curb last month in northern France in tears when he realized the enormity of what he lost when doctors confirmed the worst.

“It’s getting hard to take. Every year I am getting older,” Porte said Monday from Monaco. “I know I don’t have that many more opportunities to go and have a crack at the Tour. This year was harder to take than it was in the past. After coming off winning the Tour de Suisse, I was in a good place. I had a strong team around me, and then to have that happen …”

Porte replayed the crash over in his mind: a nervous start, a jumpy peloton, and miles before the course hit the pavé, there was one of those innocuous pileups that happen every day in a bike race. Sometimes you jump right back up, but sometimes you don’t. Porte landed funny in the crunch of bodies and bikes, and immediately knew something was wrong. That dull pain. A quick doctor’s revision. The order to get into the ambulance. The realization that his Tour was over.

“As soon as I hit the ground, I knew I had fractured my collarbone,” he said. “You get that dull pain and you know it’s not good.”

And once he was back home, he could only watch in wonder and dismay as Geraint Thomas, a former teammate and contemporary, rode away with the yellow jersey.

“In July last year, we went home on the same day and we were kind of swapping bad luck stories,” Porte said of Thomas. “I had another rotten run of bad luck, and ‘G’ wins the Tour.”

Porte still cannot believe his bad luck, yet he was quick to congratulate Thomas, a former teammate and friend who often train together in the hills around Monaco. Porte was once part of Sky’s formidable lineup and said it was no surprise to see Thomas rise to the occasion.

“Full credit to Geraint,” Porte said. “We are quite good friends and we trained together before the Tour. It was a different ‘G.’ He was super motivated going into it, and I’ve never seen him so switched on. He had a lot of confidence out of winning the Dauphiné, so it’s not a massive surprise he finally puts it all together and doesn’t have any bad luck.”

Porte is easing back into the life of the peloton. After crashing out, his wife and newly born son helped him ease the emotional burden of leaving the Tour. He appreciated the many messages of condolences and encouragement from friends, family and fellow competitors. He watched the Tour daily and said he enjoyed commentary from ex-pro David Millar.

Porte will start the Vuelta not quite knowing what to expect. He will not race before the August 25 start in Malaga, but will still have the Tour de France fitness in his legs even if he’s missing top-end racing speed. An intriguing worlds course is also helping him stay motivated for the remainder of 2018.

Porte said he will reveal his professional future before the start of the Vuelta, and if many media reports are to believed, it’s also likely his final grand tour with BMC Racing.

Porte is already impatiently awaiting the announcement of the 2019 Tour route this fall. That’s when the months of preparation, training, and planning begin.

“Cadel [Evans] won when he was 34, and I’ll be 34 next year,” Porte said. “I started as a pro at 25, so I’ve got a few years left in me.”

His goals are clear for 2019.

“The first thing is to get past stage 9 next year,” Porte said sardonically in reference to the stage that’s spelled his doom the past two Tours. And avoid bad luck.

“At the end of the day, this year’s left me more motivated for the Tour,” he said. “It’s inspiring to see Geraint win the Tour. I’ve seen so much of his bad luck first-hand. To see him win the Tour does give you a bit more motivation.”

Porte knows all he needs is a little bit of luck to turn his way and the story could have a very different ending.

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Sky’s Bernal, Castroviejo discuss Tour de France drama

Two of Team Sky’s newest and most effective “gregarios” defended the team’s collective strength and questioned the tactics of their rivals.

Egan Bernal and Jonathan Castroviejo, speaking in different interviews over the weekend, offered new insight to what happened inside Team Sky during July’s Tour de France. Castroviejo said winner Geraint Thomas and co-team leader Chris Froome held “mutual respect” all the way to Paris, while Bernal said the team’s rivals waited too long to mount a counter-offensive.

“They are afraid to attack,” Bernal told Mundo Deportivo. “That’s the problem, not Team Sky. Everyone attacked in the final mountain stage of the Tour. I thought, ‘why did they wait so long?’ They should have done it earlier.”

Bernal, who spoke to the Spanish sports daily ahead of his crash Saturday at the Clásica San Sebastián, insisted that Sky’s racing style isn’t as predictable as it might seem.

“It’s not a question of speed or watts. Sensations count for a lot,” Bernal said. “They speak about taking away the power meters. I looked at mine occasionally out of curiosity. No one ever told me to go at this power or be careful not to go above this limit.

“You know yourself and you know your ‘cruising speed’ that you can hold for 20-30 minutes,” Bernal continued. “They told at Alpe d’Huez to climb and leave them at such and such kilometer. What would have happened if I could have only pulled for three instead of eight? The leaders would have been isolated. It could have happened because I was on my limit. [Our rivals] seem more concerned about our race than theirs. They are afraid to attack.

“What did Landa do on the final day? He attacked and put us on the limit,” Bernal said. “It’s true that we had time on him and we had the time trial coming up, but someone could have attacked who was at 10 or 20 seconds.”

Bernal, 21, left the Tour as the revelation of the race. Before his crash, he hinted he wanted to race the Vuelta a España. After crashing Saturday, Bernal underwent surgery for facial injuries and did not know what the rest of his season might look like.

Castroviejo, meanwhile, revealed that Thomas and Froome worked well together to handle what could have been an explosive situation.

“Yes, it was a surprise, but Thomas demonstrated he was a just winner. And for us, there was never an uncomfortable situation or ‘polemics,’” Castroviejo said. “Thomas was intractable and he raced a perfect Tour. And what Froome did the last day I admired a lot because he is noble and humble.

“It’s not easy for a team to share leadership and we were talking about first and second on GC. Even so, there was never any kind of problem,” he continued. “Each one gave in for the good of the team, and the winner was decided on the road. There was mutual respect and ‘good feeling.’ At the first part of the race it was more complicated, but as the race advanced, especially in the Alps and above all in the Pyrénées, the ambiance was much better. By the time we got to Paris, everything was normal.”

Team Sky’s domination of the Tour continues to haunt rivals and officials alike. After winning six of the past editions of the Tour, Sky looks firmly in control of its destiny after recruiting such riders as Bernal and Castroviejo.

Castroviejo joined Team Sky this year after racing six seasons with Movistar. The four-time Spanish time trial champion was tapped for his ability against the clock and his pulling power.

“It looks easy on TV, that nobody ever put us in difficulty, but the day to day is very different,” he said. “It’s very complicated. In the mountains we always have to stay as a solid group and you never know until the time trial. You can have a bad day and lose all the hard work in a bad moment.”

With Bernal waiting in the wings and Froome and Thomas likely returning to next year’s Tour as co-leaders, Sky’s rivals will be scratching their heads all winter on how to unravel the British outfit’s stranglehold on the yellow jersey.

Read the full article at Sky’s Bernal, Castroviejo discuss Tour de France drama on