5 things to know about the Tour de France
LILLE, France -- Giant-Shimano rider Marcel Kittel won yet again on the Tour de France, grabbing his third stage of four in the sprint into Lille on Tuesday.
With another sprint stage set for Wednesday, and other sprinters seemingly powerless to overtake the powerful German in a flat out race to the line, the peloton's fastest man could equal his four stage wins last year before the race finishes its first week.
Here are five things to know about Stage 4 from Le Touquet and Lille:
NO GEL NO PROBLEM: Marcel Kittel's well-gelled quiff sets him apart from the crowd of shaved heads in the Tour de France. But the most distintive coiffure in pro cycling was a victim of heightened airport security on Monday when he tried to board a flight from London only to have his bottle of industrial-strength hair gel confiscated by airport security. Kittel, who won Monday's stage from Cambridge to London, had to fly to France for Tuesday's stage near the Belgian border without the offending haircare product, said Geert Broekhuizen, a spokesman for Kittel's Giant-Shimano team. "I'm not worried, I'm sure he had more in his checked bag," Broekhuizen said with a laugh. He must have, because Kittel won again.
NO LUCK FOR SCHLECK: Andy Schleck's run of bad luck on the Tour continued on Tuesday when he was forced to withdraw after finishing only three stages. The Luxembourg rider, who was credited with the 2010 Tour win after it was stripped from Alberto Contador for a doping violation, collided with a spectator on the side of the road late in Monday's stage from Cambridge to London. Schleck withdraw before Tuesday's stage. He tweeted: "Very disappointed to let you know that i will not be able to start. My knee is too damaged from the crash. This is a huge blow for me." Schleck has struggled to make a mark in cycling since his 2010 victory, missing the 2012 Tour with a fractured pelvis and finishing 20th last year. The Trek Factory Racing team rider was racing this week in support of his elder brother Frank, who is back in the peloton after a one-year doping suspension. Andy will undergo a scan to determine whether surgery is necessary.
HELL OF THE NORTH: Ever since the Tour route was unveiled last October, Wednesday's fifth stage has been the most talked about day of the race. That's because for the first time since 2010, the race will take riders over nine sections of rough cobblestones, or "pave" as they are called in French. "It's going to be a nightmare, especially if it rains, it's going to be like riding on ice," Team Sky rider Gerraint Thomas said. "Especially with some of the corners on the cobbles, last man standing I think." The stage has been described as a "mini-Paris-Roubaix" after the race across the north of France that each year takes in over 20 cobbled sectors, which are infamous for the battering they give to riders and their bikes. The difference on Wednesday is that none of the big Tour contenders is a regular competitor in April's "Hell of the North," as Paris-Roubaix is called. Yellow jersey wearer Vincenzo Nibali has never raced it, and neither has two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador. Defending champion Chris Froome attempted the brutal race only once in his career, in 2008. He didn't finish. The stage includes 15 kilometers of cobbles, scattered over the last 60 kilometers. Peter Sagan, lying second overall, has ridden Paris-Roubaix three times, with a best of sixth this year. This year's Paris-Roubaix winner, Niki Terpstra, and runner-up John Degenkolb will also be aiming for the stage win.
VOECKLER STILL AT IT: At 35, French rider Thomas Voeckler hasn't lost his knack for attention-grabbing on the Tour. Voeckler, the last Frenchman to wear the yellow jersey, attacked early and went on a nearly 150-kilometer breakaway, accompanied by only Spanish rider Luis Mate. He was caught 16 kilometers from the finish. Voeckler, famous for his grimaces and tongue wagging while racing, said he "had a lot of fun." "It's not a big disappointment, because it didn't cost me too much energy," Voeckler said. He wore the yellow jersey for 10 stages in 2011 before losing it to Andy Schleck in an epic race up the Alp d'Huez. He also wore the yellow jersey for 10 stages in 2004, and Wednesday marked 10 years to the day that Voeckler wore the yellow jersey for the first time. "My legs felt good and usually that doesn't disappear overnight, so I hope to put that to good use on a stage that's more favorable to breakaways," he said.
WEATHER WATCH: Tour riders and their team directors spent Tuesday evening catching the World Cup semifinal at their hotels -- as well as keeping an eye on the local weather. Wind and steady rain are forecast for Wednesday, which threatens to make an already devilishly hard cobbled stage even more unpredictable. "That was the talk in the peloton today, the forecast for tomorrow, nobody's looking forward to it," said Bernie Eisel, a Team Sky teammate of 2013 winner Chris Froome. "It's going to be stressful and not enjoyable at all. But it's the same for everyone so we'll just get stuck in and hopefully stay out of trouble."
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Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press
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