TOURS, France (AP) — Five things to know as the Tour de France enters its 13th stage on Friday:
1. A FRENCH FUNK? —
Zut, alors! It’s Stage 12 and no Frenchman has yet won any of them. This time a year ago, French riders had three, and were on their way to a total of five. Partisan French fans do have someone to cheer: Pierre Rolland of Europcar has the polka-dot shirt, given to the best climber. And Jean-Christophe Peraud is 10th overall. Still, it could be little consolation for home-grown fans, who have heaped on the encouragement for the nearly 40 French riders still racing, the biggest national contingent. Perrick Fedrigo, a Francaise des Jeux rider who won a stage last year, took it in stride. “We try our best. If it works, so much the better. If not, too bad.” Peraud said. “We have some good climbers; I hope (a French rider) will get one in the Alps” that loom next week. The French have sought a national champion for decades: The last French Tour winner was Bernard Hinault in 1985.
2. KITTEL’S CABOODLE —
So far this year, the closest thing French to a stage winner is the first name of Germany’s Marcel Kittel — the Argos-Shimano sprint specialist who raced to his third stage victory on Wednesday. The broad-shouldered German edged British rival Mark Cavendish at the finish after the 135.5-mile course from Fougeres to Tours, where a late crash slowed up fellow German sprinting ace Andre Greipel. Chris Froome of Britain avoided the spill and retained the yellow jersey for a fifth straight day. Froome is likely to keep it after Friday’s mostly flat stage from Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond in central France.
3. BUT SKY FORECAST DARKENS —
Froome’s teammate, Edvald Boassen Hagen, wasn’t so lucky. The husky Norwegian went down not once but twice, including in the late spill Thursday, and cradled his right arm gingerly and winced as he rode to the team bus. Sky said Boasson Hagen was out of the race after breaking his right shoulder blade, a potential blow to Froome. Boassen Hagen, the national champion who won two stages in the 2011 Tour, was one of the Sky riders expected to help escort Froome through tough Alpine climbs. His rivals like Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, who is 3 minutes, 25 seconds behind, and two-time Tour champ Alberto Contador, who is 3:54 back, may look to pounce.
4. THE TOUR IN TOURS —
Castles, castles, castles ... the stage guided the pack into Tours, France, which last hosted a Tour stage finish eight years ago. The town is in the heart of the Loire river valley, known for its jaw-dropping castles dating back to the Middle Ages. As TV viewers caught helicopter-borne views of Usse castle, whose managers say was an inspiration for a French version of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale, and moat-ringed Azay-le-Rideau, racers actually sped past Villandry, a Renaissance edifice known mostly for its sculpted gardens.
5. RULE BRITANNIA? —
France’s cycling misfortunes in recent years have been compounded by Britain’s fortunes. A centuries-old, cross-Channel rivalry took a turn last year when Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win cycling’s greatest race, making him an English king of French roads. That British supremacy continues to be felt, with Union Jacks fluttering more in France’s summer breeze. Said Froome: “I’ve really been blown away by the support of the British over the last few days.” The Tour gets even more British next year. The race will start in Yorkshire — building on a smashing London debut to the 2007 Tour, when millions of fans turned out.