Already missing riders, Tour de France tackles tough Stage 2

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French rider Thibault Pinot, center, sits after falling during the first stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 156 kilometers (97 miles) with start and finish in Nice, southern France, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. (Anne-Christine Poujoulat, Pool via AP)

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NICE, France (AP) — Already missing riders injured in crashes on the first day, the Tour de France is for the first time in its history heading directly into high mountains on Sunday’s Stage 2, an exceptionally early gauge of top contenders’ readiness to compete for the overall win.

Sunday’s route looping north of the Mediterranean city of Nice has two climbs to 1,500 meters (4,920 feet) and higher that will test the fitness of riders whose preparations this year were thrown upside down by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Belgian team Lotto Soudal is already reduced to six riders, after losing former world champion Philippe Gilbert and John Degenkolb to knee injuries in Saturday’s crash-marred Stage 1. Gilbert broke his left knee cap. He rode through pain to finish but the team said he wouldn’t start Sunday.

Degenkolb bashed up his right knee and was in so much pain as he struggled to the finish that he missed the time-cut.

The next-to-last finisher, Rafael Valls, was subsequently diagnosed with a fractured right thigh bone. His Bahrain-McLaren team said the Spanish rider also was out of the race.

Other riders are bashed up after rain storms made roads as slippery as ice on the Stage 1 route through and around Nice. Many arrived for the start of Stage 2 wrapped in bandages.

Among them is Thibaut Pinot, regarded as France’s best hope for its first Tour title since 1985. He was involved in a pile-up in the final dash to the line won by Norwegian rider Alexander Kristoff.

“I’m aching a bit all over,” Pinot said before Sunday’s start. “But nothing is broken, so the road continues.”

“All the crashes weren’t shown on television … they were happening on every bend,” he added. “It was one of my worst days on a bike.”

As the peloton set off, Kristoff was riding in the race leader’s yellow jersey for the first time in his career. He had a matching yellow face mask at the start.

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