NICE, France (AP) — Here are five things to know as the Tour de France enters its fifth stage Wednesday:
1. SPRINTERS TO SHINE? This Tour hasn't yet been friendly to the top sprinters, though its early stages traditionally are. A crash
marred race start Saturday, then two days of hilly rides — which sprinters generally dread — in Corsica have not given them a moment in the limelight. That could change Wednesday and Thursday with mostly flat rides along the Mediterranean. Rolf Aldag, manager of the Omega Pharma QuickStep squad of Mark Cavendish, said the British sprinter was disappointed, "but you've got to be angry — you need to be after that kind of disappointment. He knows his time will come."
2. FAVORITES FEELING BETTER
For Tour title contenders, race calculus involves managing effort, avoiding crashes and peaking at the right time. This year, that will be in the Alps in Week 3 before the July 21 finish in Paris. Britain's Chris Froome and two-time Tour champion Alberto Contador of Spain are the favorites to take home the leader's yellow jersey, and they both feel their mojo rising. After Tuesday's time trial, where their squads both fared well, Froome said he's "really coming into some good form now ahead of the mountains" — alluding to two Pyrenees stages this weekend. Contador said he still feels some muscle pain from a crash on Saturday, but is recovering and hopes to be in "perfect condition" in the Pyrenees.
3. MAGIC BUS
The Orica GreenEdge bus has had an outsize role at this Tour. On Saturday, it got jammed under the finish-line structure late in the stage, causing race officials to scramble and heaping embarrassment on the team. On Tuesday, the bus had been transformed into a site of euphoria: hugs, chants, and Australian flags were on display after Orica sped to a record-fast victory in the team time trial and Australia's Simon Gerrans took the yellow jersey. In truth, team officials said it wasn't the same bus, but another resembling the one that had gotten stuck. It was sent to a repair shop because its rooftop air conditioning system had been damaged in Saturday's blush-inspiring incident.
4. RIIS RETURNS
Bjarne Riis, the Danish manager of Contador's Saxo Bank squad, turned up as the Tour headed to France from Corsica after he opted not to attend the start. Danish journalists say Riis, who has admitted to using the blood booster EPO on the way to his 1996 Tour victory, has kept a low profile in recent months. American former rider Tyler Hamilton, who once was part of Riis' CSC-Tiscali squad, wrote in his 2012 book, "The Secret Race," that Riis encouraged him to have a blood transfusion, and meet with the Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes — who was convicted in April for endangering public health over the so-called Operation Puerto doping case. Asked Tuesday by The Associated Press to react to Hamilton's allegations, Riis declined to comment, saying an anti-doping investigation was under way in Denmark and adding: "I haven't read it."
Several riders nursing crash-related injuries have dropped out. French cyclist Yoann Bagot of Cofidis and Astana's Andrey Kashechkin of Kazakhstan pulled out of the race on Monday. American Ted King of the Cannondale team, bandaged up and riding through pain from the crash Saturday, couldn't keep up with his team in the time-trial, and failed to make the time cut in Tuesday's Stage 4. King, on his Twitter page, said he didn't believe he had missed the cut — but the team, on its page, confirmed "with regret" that King was out after missing the cut by just 7 seconds.
Eds: John Leicester in Nice, France, contributed to this report.