5 things to know about Tour de France
SAINT-AMAND-MONTROND, France -- Five things to know as the Tour de France enters its 14th stage on Saturday:
1. FLAT OUT EXCITING: -- One of the articles of faith at the Tour is that flat stages tend to be less relevant to the overall standings because it's hard for individual riders to break away from the tightly wound pack. Not so on Friday: Gusty winds helped breakaway riders split the peloton into pieces, and kept stragglers from catching up. Then, Alejandro Valverde of Spain, who began the day in second place overall, had a breakdown that saw him fall out of contention. Finally, the front bunch split apart too, leaving overall leader Chris Froome behind some key rivals who cut their deficit to the lanky Briton by more than a minute on a stage won by Britain's Mark Cavendish. Rival title contenders like two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador and two Dutchmen on the Belkin team -- second-place Bauke Mollema and No. 4. Laurens Ten Dam -- could now sense even more vulnerability in Froome's once indomitable and feared Sky team.
2. VALVERDE'S VENGEANCE? -- Valverde, who Lance Armstrong once called the future of cycling, saw his hopes for an elusive Tour podium spot all but vanish: The 2009 Spanish Vuelta winner was the stage's biggest casualty after he braked sharply in the feed zone, causing a rider to bump into his bike and break his rear wheel. The Spaniard blamed the mishap on "bad luck" but bristled about the actions of French team Europcar, which pressed the pace as he struggled. He says he'll try to focus on getting eighth-place teammate Nairo Quintana on the podium, and in a potentially more sinister tone, said: "Maybe we can make the race tougher for those who didn't help me today, and made it so I couldn't catch up."
3. FROOME'S FAITHFUL FRIEND -- In bunch sprints at the Tour, that little yellow dot you see in the multicolored mass of jerseys is Froome. And, more likely than not, the rider in blue just in front of him is his Sky teammate Ian Stannard. Stannard's job in the final kilometers, when the pack is gearing up for a sprint finish and the risk of crashes climbs, is to shepherd the race leader safely to the line. Stannard's help is "massively, massively important," said Froome. "I just fix onto his backwheel and try and just follow him around the peloton and he's got a great feeling of when to move up and where to be at the right time." Other teams protect their leader by riding around him, several strong. But Sky believe it's safer for Froome to just hook him up with Stannard alone, because they are more agile as a pair than they would be as a larger group -- meaning they can stay out of trouble. "I think a lot of people sort of say, `Oh, where's your team?" Froome said. "But it's so much easier just to follow one guy in those final kilometers than trying to line up a whole team and keep the whole team together. And Stannard is a whole team in himself."
4. AU REVOIR, ANNOUNCER -- One of the most impressive Tour records might not be held by a rider, but the race's announcer. Over 40 years, Daniel Mangeas hasn't missed a single stage -- about 800 in all. His gravelly baritone voice echoes for kilometers each morning, indicating the Tour has come to town. With encyclopedic knowledge of the competitors, Mangeas presents them to fans at the pre-race sign-in. At the finish, he bellows out the final race drama, and voices the daily awards ceremonies. The secrets of his longevity? Honey and cottage cheese at breakfast for the voice and passion for cycling (his parents told him his first words as a toddler after "Mama" and "Papa" were the names of two French cycling greats). Now, at the age of 64, Mangeas says next year's Tour will be his last. "It's true, everybody tells me: `Say it isn't so!" Mangeas said. "But you have to know when to hang things up -- even if it tears me apart. I love the Tour de France like you'd love a person."
5. ON THE RAZOR'S EDGE? -- Marcel Kittel's third Tour stage win on Thursday may have cost Dutch teammate Koen de Kort his hair. Kittel says he and his Argos-Shimano colleague placed a bet that if the German sprint specialist won three stages this year, de Kort would shave his head. "This is going to happen now," Kittel said.
AP Sports Writers John Leicester in Saint-Amand-Montrond, France, and Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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