5 things to know about Tour de France

The pack rides during the tenth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 197 kilometers (123.1 miles) with start in in Saint-Gildas-des-Bois and finish in Saint-Malo, Brittany region, western France, Tuesday July 9 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

SAINT-MALO, France — Five things to know as the Tour de France enters its 11th stage on Wednesday:



If any region can be considered the heart of French cycling, it’s Brittany. Home to five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault and three-time champion Louison Bobet, France’s verdant and rocky western shoulder is also known for its oysters, crepes, maritime and Celtic past, and regional pride: roadway signs are in both French and the local Breton language, as part of efforts to resuscitate its historic identity. On Tuesday, Brittany’s black-and-white flags — with a striped motif that’s somewhat reminiscent of the American flag — flew in large numbers on roadsides as Tour riders cut a 197-kilometer (122.4-mile) south-to-north, swathe through Brittany for Stage 10, won by Germany’s Marcel Kittel at the walled city of Saint-Malo.


The crush of autograph-seeking fans, harried team staffers in cars, busy journalists and weary, adrenaline-charged riders can make for chaos after a Tour stage. One such episode broke out Tuesday at the Omega Pharma Quickstep bus — where journalists sought comment from Mark Cavendish after he bumped into Argos Shimano’s Tom Veelers, causing the Dutch rider to crash, in the final sprint. One TV journalist pleaded with a team vehicle driver who had rolled on his foot to back up. The Briton lost his temper after hearing a question he didn’t like by grabbing an Associated Press reporter’s recorder, and briefly placing it in the bus — before it was returned. Anger flares sometimes between riders themselves: After a stage in the 2010 Tour, Spain’s Carlos Barredo brawled with Rui Costa after the finish — even trying to whack the Portuguese rider with a bike wheel.


When you ride as fast as Cavendish does, it’s important to be able to slow down, too. He’s been experimenting with cutting-edge hydraulic brakes at this Tour — and his team says they have already proved themselves. He’s been using the hydraulic brakes, instead of the old-fashioned cable-activated ones, on and off since the first stage. The brakes “saved him from crashing,” said Rolf Aldag, a director on Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step team, in the pileup which marred the end of that stage. Speaking before Tuesday’s stage, Aldag said Cavendish was able to avoid the Stage 1 chaos, when “everybody else around him crashes.” He said the brakes are especially effective in wet conditions, and the team intends to equip its other riders with the brakes, too. But Cavendish hasn’t used the brakes every day at the Tour — and wasn’t using them Tuesday.


Tour riders will get a varied dose of history — if they have time for it — for the Stage 11 time trial on Wednesday. The ride starts in Avranches, whose website dates the town’s origins back to Celts in the 9th century B.C. More recently, the town was liberated by forces of U.S. Gen. George S. Patton in World War II. Then, it’s a 33-kilometer (20.5-mile) ride over to the breathtaking island citadel of Mont-Saint-Michel, listed as a World Heritage site by the United Nations’ cultural agency, which calls it a Gothic-style Benedictine abbey erected between the 11th and 16th centuries.


Chris Froome will be focusing on the present, not the past, for Wednesday’s race-against-the-clock: The Briton has worn the Tour leader’s yellow jersey since capturing it Saturday in the first of two stages in the Pyrenees mountains. The 182 riders — wearing space-age, aerodynamic helmets and atop special bikes — will roll down the starter’s ramp one by one in a race-against-the-clock, in reverse order of the standings. That means he will go last. Froome, who won bronze in the Olympic time trial last year, is seen as one of the favorites to win the stage — along with Tony Martin of Germany, who won silver. Froome said: “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow ... Time trialing is one of those things that the more you do it, the better you become at it.”A


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