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5 things to know about Tour de France

July 6, 2013

ALBI, France (AP) — Five things to know as the Tour de France enters its eighth stage on Saturday:

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1. SLOGGING SPRINTERS — The sprinting stars faded in Friday’s Stage 7. While they’ve each won a stage already, Britain’s Mark Cavendish and German pair Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel were left behind over four mid-grade climbs. The one top sprinter who does get over the ascents easier, Slovakia’s Peter Sagan, won the stage. After more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) of racing, only two finishes have pitted the best sprinters against one another. They’ll be even more inconspicuous in the mountains this weekend.

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2. ALBI BACK — Friday’s 205.5-kilometer (128-mile) leg took riders from Montpellier to Albi. It was the 12th time the Tour has ended a stage in the medieval city that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, in part for its towering Sainte-Cecile Cathedral and 11th century Old Bridge. For AG2R rider Blel Kadri, who won the polka-dot jersey for being the Tour’s best climber on Friday, it was a homecoming of sorts — the French rider got his cycling license in Albi and said his success Friday was rewarding because “people know me” here.

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3. DANGER AT EVERY TURN: As riders zoom along the roads of France, it is difficult enough controlling the bikes without thinking about the thousands of fans lining the route every day. “The dangerous thing about it is people not understanding how fast we’re actually going,” said American rider Christian Vande Velde. “There should be like a public announcement on TV, like, ‘This could happen to you.’” For Vande Velde, those scary days in the saddle are now a thing of the past. This was the 37-year-old’s last Tour and it ended badly for him when he crashed Friday and had to pull out.

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4. PYRENEAN PUNISHMENT — After a grueling climb up the 2,000-meter (6,500-foot) Pailheres pass, riders will face a daunting uphill finish on Saturday at Ax 3 Domaines. The Tour has had three previous finishes at the ski station, all since 2000. The 1,372-meter peak looms over Ax-les-Thermes, a town with a history that stretches back to Roman times and is known for its healing waters. It’s home to a hospital built in the 13th century to help care for soldiers who contracted leprosy during the Crusades in Palestine, according to the town’s website.

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5. READING THE TEJAY LEAVES — Tejay Van Garderen, who took home the white jersey as the Tour’s best young rider in his debut last year, predicts a shake-up Saturday during the 195-kilometer (121-mile) stretch from Castres to Ax 3 Domaines, the first of two stages being held in the Pyrenees. The 24-year-old American says it “depends if people want to hold their cards close to their chests or if they want to come out swinging on the first mountain day. I expect for them to come out swinging — so there should probably be some big gaps.”

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