The UCI said it "strongly condemns the dangerous behaviour" of Dylan Groenewegen for causing the crash at the end of the first stage of the Tour of Poland that left Fabio Jakobsen in an induced coma.

Groenewegen won the stage but was later disqualified from the race after Jakobsen was sent careering over the barriers during a sprint finish.

Several other riders were injured after crashing as the barriers split and flew across the road.

Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider Jakobsen was airlifted to hospital, as was a course-side referee, where he was later placed into an induced coma.

A statement from UCI read: "[The UCI] strongly condemns the dangerous behaviour of rider Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Wisma), who sent Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) into the barriers a few metres from the finish, causing a collective crash at the end of the first stage of the Tour of Poland.

"Groenewegen was disqualified from the race by the commissaires' panel.

"The UCI, which considers the behaviour unacceptable, immediately referred the matter to the Disciplinary Commission to request the imposition of sanctions commensurate with the seriousness of the facts.

"Our Federation is wholeheartedly with the affected riders."

Jumbo-Wisma posted on Twitter to apologise for the incident and said an internal review will be taking place.

"Our thoughts go out to Fabio Jakobsen and other people involved in today's terrible crash in the Tour of Poland. Crashes like these should not happen," it read.

"We offer our sincere apologies and we will discuss internally what has happened before we may make any further statement. #TDP20."

Deceuninck-Quickstep posted: "Our thoughts and prayers are with Fabio Jakobsen. When we have news, we will let you know. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support."

Chris Froome believes the delay to the Tour de France will benefit his hopes of regaining the yellow jersey, claiming he is on the right trajectory for the race.

The Tour was postponed from June 27 to August 29 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It meant Froome, who missed all three Grand Tour events last year after suffering severe injuries in a high-speed crash, had more time to recover after returning to action in February.

Asked if the delay had helped him prepare for his push for a fifth Tour victory, Froome told Cyclingnews: "Very much so in fact.

"The delay to the major races has helped me take the next step in terms of being back to my normal self again.

"I think that given where we are right now, with just about a month to the Tour, I'm on the right trajectory for that race. I'm happy with where I'm at."

Froome will end his 10-year spell with Team INEOS at the culmination of the 2020 campaign to join Israel Start-Up Nation.

However, Froome is not thinking about his future beyond this season.

"There are going to be a lot of changes, but that's still a few months away, so I'm not really thinking about that now," said Froome. 

"I'm just focused on getting the best out of myself for the rest of the season."

 

 

Chris Froome will join Israel Start-Up Nation from the start of next season, after his departure from Team INEOS was confirmed on Thursday.

Four-time Tour de France winner Froome has agreed a "long-term" contract with ISN, tying him to the team until "the end of his illustrious career".

The 35-year-old, who also has a pair of Vuelta a Espana triumphs to his name along with the 2018 Giro d'Italia, will conclude the 2020 season with Team INEOS.

David Brailsford explained Froome's departure from the outfit formerly known as Team Sky was due to the fact he could no longer be assured of sole leadership of a squad that has produced Tour de France winners Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal in the past two years.

ISN, where his team-mates will include Dan Martin and Andre Greipel, can offer that guarantee.

"I'm really excited to be joining the ISN family," Froome said. "I look forward to challenging and being challenged by their talent and continuing to strive for the success that I've enjoyed up to now.

"ISN's impact on the sport is rapidly expanding, and I'm energised to be along for the ride. I feel we can achieve great things together."

ISN co-owner Sylvan Adams believes Froome can become recognised as the finest rider in the history of the sport during his time with the team.

"This is an historic moment for ISN, Israel, Israeli sports, our many fans all around the world and, of course, for me personally – a moment of enormous pride," Adams said.

"Chris is the best rider of his generation and will lead our Tour de France and Grand Tour squad.

"We hope to make history together as Chris pursues further Tour de France and Grand Tour victories, achievements that would make a serious case for Chris to be considered the greatest cyclist of all time."

Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome will leave Team INEOS at the end of this season, following a decade-long association.

Froome is out of contract in December and will part ways with the David Brailsford-helmed outfit – formerly known as Team Sky – because he can no longer be guaranteed sole team leadership.

The 35-year-old triumphed at Le Tour in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, although INEOS' domination of road cycling's premier event continued with Geraint Thomas taking glory in 2018 and Egan Bernal prevailing in Froome's injury absence last year.

A scramble for the services of one of the sport's all-time greats is now set to ensue, although Cycling News reports Froome has agreed a multi-year contract with Israel Start-Up Nation.

"It has been a phenomenal decade with the team, we have achieved so much together and I will always treasure the memories," said Froome, who also won the Vuelta a Espana in 2011 and 2017 before completing the set of cycling's Grand Tours at the 2018 Giro d'Italia.

"I look forward to exciting new challenges as I move into the next phase of my career, but in the meantime my focus is on winning a fifth Tour de France with Team INEOS."

Froome superseded 2012 Tour winner Bradley Wiggins as the team's dominant force when he topped the podium on the Champs-Elysees 12 months later.

However, Brailsford indicated the likes of Thomas and Bernal now have their esteemed team-mate on the other side of that equation.

"Chris' current contract comes to an end in December and we have taken the decision now not to renew it," he said.

"We are making this announcement earlier than would usually be the case to put an end to recent speculation and allow the team to focus on the season ahead.

"Chris has been with us from the start. He is a great champion and we have shared many memorable moments over the years, but I do believe this is the right decision for the team and for Chris.

"Given his achievements in the sport, Chris is understandably keen to have sole team leadership in the next chapter of his career - which is not something we are able to guarantee him at this point. A move away from Team INEOS can give him that certainty.

"At the same time, it will also give other members of our team the leadership opportunities they too have earned and are rightly seeking."

Elite sport is gradually returning to our screens amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Germany's Bundesliga, the UFC and the NRL were among the first top-level events to forge a route back last month after pausing due to the global crisis.

A clutch of Europe's other top football leagues, cricket, motorsport and the United States' major competitions all have designs on behind-closed-doors resumptions in the near future, too, which could create a significant backlog of crucial fixtures.

One positive is that sports fans might now be treated to a number of colossal match-ups back-to-back on the same day at some point over the coming months.

That prospect gives us the opportunity to reflect on five similar occasions with the greatest sporting days since the turn of the century - including one exactly a year ago.

 

JULY 23, 2000

The US had a day to remember as two of their most prominent stars bolstered their still burgeoning reputations with big victories on foreign soil.

The paths of Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong have subsequently diverged a little, however.

Woods became the youngest player to complete golf's career grand slam with a record-breaking victory at The Open in 2000, while Armstrong wrapped up a second straight Tour de France title.

The American duo stood at the top of the world, yet history will recall Armstrong's achievements rather differently now he has been stripped of each of his seven successive yellow jerseys for doping.

Woods at least maintained his high standards and held all four major titles after the 2001 Masters, winning again at Augusta as recently as last year.

FEBRUARY 1, 2004

Two more sporting greats shared the same special page in the calendar early in 2004.

It was a long day for anyone who took in both Roger Federer's performance in Melbourne's Australian Open final and Tom Brady's Super Bowl display in Houston, but they were duly rewarded.

Twenty-time grand slam champion Federer had won just one major before facing down Marat Safin in Australia, also becoming the ATP Tour's top-ranked player for the first time. He stayed at number one for a record-shattering 237 weeks.

Brady similarly then doubled his tally of Super Bowl rings by delivering a second triumph in three years for the Patriots, in what was a classic encounter against the Carolina Panthers.

Brady threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns, before Adam Vinatieri's field goal secured a 32-29 win with four seconds remaining.

AUGUST 4-5, 2012

One would struggle to find a greater array of star-studded athletes of various sports than those who congregated in London across the penultimate weekend of the 2012 Olympic Games.

On the Saturday evening, at the Aquatics Centre, swimming prepared to say goodbye to its greatest name. Michael Phelps and the United States won the 4x100m medley, clinching his 18th gold medal in what appeared set to be his final race.

Indeed, Phelps confirmed his retirement following the Games, only to return in predictably dominant fashion in 2016.

Across the city that same night, Team GB athletes were capping a stunning run of medals that would see the day dubbed "Super Saturday". There were six home golds in all, including big wins for Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah in quick succession.

The drama only continued the next day, too, as Andy Murray finally sealed a Wimbledon win over Federer in the tennis event, while Usain Bolt lit up London Stadium in the 100m.

JUNE 1, 2019

It is 12 months to the day since another epic sporting stretch, one that concluded in stunning fashion with one of boxing's great modern upsets.

Rugby union and football each had their respective turns in the spotlight earlier, with Saracens following up their European Champions Cup success - a third in four years - by retaining the Premiership title with victory over Exeter Chiefs.

In Madrid, two more English teams were in action as Liverpool edged past Tottenham in the Champions League final.

But as Sarries and the Reds celebrated, focus turned towards Madison Square Garden where Anthony Joshua was expected to make light work of Andy Ruiz Jr, a replacement for Jarrell Miller following a failed drugs test.

The heavyweight title match did not go to script, however, as Ruiz floored Joshua four times and forced a stoppage to claim his belts, albeit only until the rematch where the Briton saved face.

JULY 14, 2019

These crazy spectacles have largely seen sport spread throughout the day, but three sets of eyes were required to keep up with the action on an epic afternoon last July.

With England hosting and then reaching the Cricket World Cup final, the scene-stealing decider fell on the same day as the Wimbledon men's final and the British Grand Prix, ensuring the United Kingdom was the focus of the sporting world.

The cricket started off several hours before either the tennis or the F1 but still managed to outlast its rival events, with Ben Stokes determined to put on a show as England won via a dramatic Super Over at the end of a nine-hour saga against New Zealand.

Novak Djokovic was battling Stokes for attention as he was taken all the way by that man Federer at the All England Club before finally prevailing 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 13-12 (7-3) in the tournament's longest singles final.

The respective classics made the British GP, completed earlier in the day, something of an afterthought - but not for Lewis Hamilton, who claimed a record sixth victory.

Lance Armstrong has expressed remorse towards some of those hurt while covering up his multiple drug offences but still harbours animosity towards former team-mate Floyd Landis.

Armstrong is the subject of a new ESPN documentary LANCE, where he assesses his fall from grace on the back of being handed a lifetime ban from cycling in 2012, when a United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) investigation led to him being stripped of the Tour de France victories he claimed from 1999 to 2005.

The 48-year-old cancer survivor accepts his treatment of Emma O'Reilly, the former soigneur on Armstrong's US Postal team and an early whistleblower in his case, and Italian cyclist Filippo Simeoni, who testified against Armstrong's now-disgraced doctor Michele Ferrari, was unacceptable.

However, he is unflinching when it comes to Landis – the 2006 Tour winner who was subsequently banned for doping before lifting the lid on Armstrong's regime and ultimately starting the chain of events that would bring about his downfall.

"Hey, it could be worse. I could be Floyd Landis," Armstrong told ESPN. "Waking up a piece of s*** every day. 

"That's what I know. I don't think it, I know it."

Along with prompting the USADA investigation that would conclude Armstrong and US Postal had run "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen", Landis also filed a lawsuit alleging Armstrong and the team had defrauded the federal government by taking US Postal Service sponsorship money while cheating.

Armstrong reached a $5million settlement in 2018.

"I hope he's changed and I hope he finds some peace. I don't know why people can't move on, but here we are," Landis told ESPN.

"At the time that I got hired by the Postal Service team they had already won the Tour de France three times with Armstrong. He was about as big a star as you could be at that point. That part made it easier for Armstrong to control that group of guys. He was the boss.

"Lance is a tough, hard motherf*****, but the rest of them were not. So they'll just take whatever beatings they get and smile."

Another of Armstrong's old colleagues, Tyler Hamilton, painted a similarly uncompromising picture and alleged the Texan was complicit in him being caught and banned for doping.

"In 2004 at the Dauphine I beat him in this time trial up Mont Ventoux," said Hamilton, who was riding for Phonak at the time, having accompanied Armstrong on his first three Tour victories.

"I've heard from sources that he was p***** and he called the UCI – this is what I was told – and said 'you've got to get this guy'.

"And, sure enough, they called that night. I don't know, most likely it happened.

"If I had to guess one way or the other I'd guess 'yes', [Armstrong] was something to do with me getting caught."

Armstrong does not address that allegation directly in the film, although he confirmed he wanted Tyler off the US Postal squad once he learnt of his Tour ambitions.

"You don't want that guy on your team. A guy on your team who thinks he can win the Tour? No – there's the door," he said.

Elsewhere, Armstrong suggested he was probably party to favourable treatment from the late UCI president Hein Verbruggen.

During the 1999 Tour, in the aftermath of the Festina doping scandals, Armstrong returned a positive cortisone test, which was covered up by a backdated prescription for saddle soreness that his team provided.

"If the question is 'how much did you have Hein Verbruggen in your pocket?' there's a lot of different ways to answer that," he said. "Financially… zero.

"He's no longer with us to answer this question himself but do I believe that Hein wanted to protect the sport? Yes. Protect me? Yes.

"He was coming off the heels of Festina. The world is following the story of this cancer survivor and then bam, a headline, cortisone found in his urine sample. 

"That type of cortisone was available a lot of different ways. You could inject it, you could have eyedrops, you could have a nasal spray, or you could have a cream.

"He's using the cream for saddle sores. And so Hein just [Armstrong claps hands, rubs them together]... It's like, that's it."

*** LANCE is available on ESPN Player throughout the UK, Europe and Africa from May 25th***

Disgraced cycling star Lance Armstrong has admitted he first used performance-enhancing drugs aged 21.

Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and handed a lifetime ban in 2012 following a United States Anti-Doping Agency investigation.

Having denied cheating repeatedly throughout his career, Armstrong belatedly admitted to using banned substances during a January 2013 interview with Oprah Winfrey.

The legitimacy of the American's achievements had long been the subject of conjecture after he came back from testicular cancer to dominate cycling's blue ribband event from 1999 to 2005.

However, in the new ESPN documentary LANCE, the 48-year-old confirmed his history with illegal drugs stretched back much further to his maiden campaign as a professional.

"In terms of crossing the line, to something that [you would be punished for] if you admitted it or tested positive, then that wouldn't have been until 21 years old," he told ESPN. "My first professional season.

"At that time in the sport it was cortisone, or cortisone pre-cursors, or drugs that stimulate your body's own production of cortisone. 

"It was just ingrained in the culture of the sport."

Armstrong is most infamous for his use of EPO and working alongside controversial doctor Michele Ferrari – describing the blood-boosting agent as "a whole other level" and "rocket fuel" compared to the "low-octane doping" of cortisone.

In the documentary, he also conceded to using human growth hormone (HGH) during 1996 and pondered whether this was a factor in his cancer diagnosis.

"You know, I don't know the answer to that," he said. "I don't want to say no, because I don't think that's right either. I don't know if it's yes or no, but I certainly wouldn't say no.

"The only thing I will tell you is, the only time in my life, that I ever did growth hormone, was the 1996 season.

"And so just in my head, I'm like, growth… growing hormones and cells, like… if anything good needs to be grown, it does. But wouldn't it also make sense that if anything bad, is there, that it too would grow?" 

Following his return to professional cycling in 1998, Armstrong insisted he had no concerns over the potential adverse effects of a cancer survivor using EPO.

"In many ways - and this is not going to be a popular answer - EPO is a safe drug," he said. "Assuming certain things, assuming [it is] taken properly, taken under the guidance of a medical professional, taken in conservative amounts.

"There are far worse things you can put in your body."

Armstrong believes his considerable fall from grace and resulting absence from the public eye might have actually brought benefits, particularly for his family.

"The last five years has really caused me to pause and try to understand, not just myself but what this story meant to other people, what this story meant to the world," he said.

"And you know, that's a heavy thing to think about. I never knew the story was as big as it was. I knew it was big, but I didn't know it was that big.

"If I was competing today, I could tell you who my peers would be. My peers would be Michael Phelps, LeBron James, and so I see where they are… and so only now do I realise, 'that's where you were'.

"That's where I was. I really don't miss that. And I think, if I'd stayed there, it wouldn't have been good for my family." 

*** LANCE is available on ESPN Player throughout the UK, Europe and Africa from May 25th***

This year's Vuelta a Espana will no longer hold two of its stages in Portugal due to the coronavirus crisis.

Stages 15 and 16 were originally due to take place across the cities of Porto, Matosinhos and Viseu but will now be held in Spain as part of an alternative route.

The Vuelta announced on Saturday the decision had been taken "due to the exceptional situation caused by the COVID-19 crisis".

It added it had proven impossible to guarantee "optimal conditions for the smooth passage of the race in the country". 

"The municipalities of Porto, Matosinhos and Viseu, in agreement with Unipublic, organisers of La Vuelta, have decided to cancel the passage of La Vuelta 20 in Portugal," read a statement on the race's official website.

Last month, plans to hold the first three stages of the race in the Netherlands were scrapped.

The start date was also postponed from August 14 to October 20 to accommodate a two-month delay to the Tour de France, meaning the Vuelta will overlap with the rescheduled Giro d'Italia.

Organisers said there will be no more alterations after the decision not to travel through Portugal.

The only section of the race outside of Spain that remains comes in stage nine, which finishes atop the Col du Tourmalet in France.

Simon Yates believes a number of cycling teams will be under intense pressure when the season resumes.

There has been no racing since the Paris-Nice in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the 2020 season is slated to get back under way in August.

The revised schedule will see the three Grand Tours, five Monuments and the UCI Road World Championships all take place in just over three months.

The Road World Championships begin on the day the Tour de France is set to end, while the Giro d'Italia overlaps with a shortened Vuelta a Espana. In addition, the Milan-San Remo is the only Monument to not coincide with a Grand Tour.

Mitchelton-Scott rider Yates, who won the Vuelta in 2018, believes smaller teams will find life difficult with their resources potentially spread so thin.

"A lot of races survive year by year, so they need to run. A lot of teams survive year by year, with their exposure to races. So I think we can't really control that from that side of view," Yates told Stats Perform.

"You have one team who don't need to ride this race because they have no interest in that country and then you have another team where that will be one of their most important races of the year.

"It's very hard to juggle the season in a way that fits everybody. I wouldn't like the task of coming up with a full season in three months or whatever it is.

"It's obviously very difficult to organise, but I think for the welfare of the riders, it's just going to be a very intense period for everybody – not just riders, I think you've got to look at the staff and the rest of the team.

"If we're running three or four races at exactly the same time on the same day it really puts a lot of stress on the whole organisation and on the whole team.

"You'll need staff going to this race, buses going to this race and they'll be driving thousands and thousands of kilometres between races. Full gas for those three months, throughout the whole time.

"Us personally as a team, we're quite a small team, we're only low 20s, a lot of other squads are 30 plus, up to 30. We'll be racing a lot more than other teams, who will be able to spread out their roster a lot more, whereas we'll be doing more races at the same time.

"I just think it's going to be stressful for a lot of teams."

Yates believes the circumstances could decrease the quality of the competition, although with the window to race so small he acknowledged the drama could increase.

"I think [it could lower the quality], or it could be the opposite because now everybody is going to come out flying," he said.

"Everyone will come out ready to race because there's no chances to build into this season anymore. This season is three months, that's what it is, so it can go either way really.

"It can either be a lot of riders are spread out and less competition or it could be really focused and everybody is raring to go."

Tom Dumoulin would not have an issue with contesting the Tour de France in the absence of fans.

The Tour had initially been scheduled to start on June 27 but was postponed when the French government extended a ban on mass gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Organisers pushed the grand depart back to August 29, though sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said on Tuesday there was no guarantee it would still be able to go ahead.

Major sporting events have been banned in France until September, leading to suggestions the Tour could take place without any road-side spectators.

Dumoulin, the 2017 Giro d'Italia winner, would not be deterred by such a situation if it means the sport can return.

"I'm of course not used to doing a Tour de France without the public, so I wouldn't know how that would be," Dumoulin told Stats Perform.

"But I can imagine that it feels strange and feels different, but once you're out on the road it's just a battle between you and your competitors.

"Racing-wise it will not really change and I will be just as motivated as ever to try and beat my competitors to try and win it.

"I can't really see big problems there, but of course I would like to have a big public there and a lot of people but it's probably just not happening.

"When the situation is like we can race, but we can race without fans, then of course we should do it and make the most of it. It will make for a good show on TV then."

The UCI's re-jigged schedule will see the Road World Championships immediately follow the Tour, with the Giro commencing two weeks later.

The Giro will also overlap with a shortened Vuelta a Espana, with four of the five Monuments taking place at the same time as one of the Grand Tours.

Dumoulin said: "I didn't look at it in detail with all the exact dates and everything, but in general I think it's a good idea to let the biggest races be on the calendar within a timeframe of less than three months.

"So it makes it very difficult and very hard for all organisers and for some races. It's definitely challenging, but it's the best we can do in the given situation. So yes, I'm definitely up for this planning."

The Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana will overlap in October this year after the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) revealed its revised 2020 schedule on Tuesday.

Racing was halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the suspension last month extended until August 1 for the UCI's WorldTour events, including the three Grand Tours.

But following a period of consultation with representatives of riders, organisers and teams, the UCI has laid out fresh plans for the conclusion of the season, which will see 25 events crammed into a little over three months.

The plans are subject to current social and travel restrictions being lifted, but the season is due to resume on August 1 with Strade Bianche in Tuscany, Italy, before finishing on November 8 with the conclusion of La Vuelta, which is now set to begin on October 20.

Spain's Grand Tour - initially set to start in mid-August - had been shortened by a weekend at the request of organisers, after the city of Utrecht in Netherlands declared it would not be able to meet conditions for the Grand Depart.

However, even with La Vuelta operating with a reduced schedule, it will overlap – as had been expected – with the Giro d'Italia, which is to run from October 3-25.

The Tour de France had already been confirmed to start on August 29 and finish on September 20.

UCI president David Lappartient said: "We have drawn up a solid, attractive and varied new calendar that is as realistic and coherent as possible. This has been achieved as early as was practicable and in line with information available today [Tuesday] concerning the evolution of the pandemic.

"Riders, teams and organisers now have the dates they need to anticipate the resumption of racing on August 1. This is a very important step that the entire cycling community, financially impacted by the pandemic, has been waiting for to move forward."

He added: "We will continue to move forward together towards the resumption of the season, nevertheless with the reminder that the health of riders and all concerned parties is still the overriding priority, and that the recommencement of our activities will remain dependent on the evolution of the world health situation."

The Women's WorldTour is also set to recommence on August 1, with its new schedule including 18 events.

Four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome says cycling is "in a great place now" but still encounters "negativity" due to past doping offences in the sport.

Lance Armstrong, who won seven straight Tour titles from 1999, was the subject of the biggest doping scandal in cycling's history after allegations throughout his career.

The American was eventually stripped of his honours in October 2012 and admitted to using banned substances the following year.

Other high-profile names were also found guilty in the same era, and Team INEOS star Froome acknowledges the sport has had to work hard to turn its reputation around.

In an interview on Instagram, former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen referred to Armstrong as he asked Froome about a period of widespread doping in cycling.

Froome replied: "We're still having to justify ourselves. It's 15 years on at least, and we're still talking about it. It did a lot of damage.

"That era has damaged the sport to a great extent, but I do really believe that the sport has turned the page.

"I don't think that I could have won the Tour de France four times if it hadn't changed. I think the sport is in a great place now.

"Of course, it's challenging with the negativity and always having to answer the same questions year in, year out to the sceptics who won't believe any performance.

"But at the same time, what can we do? We just get on with it and we know that what we're doing it right. We've got nothing to hide."

Comparing performances between modern-day riders and past dopers, Froome added: "Obviously we know what was happening 15 or so years ago. I'd say that the majority of the field were using something to go faster.

"The sport is 100 times cleaner, yet we're going faster up climbs than they were then. The best way to explain it is that as a sport we've evolved so much in terms of technology and nutrition and ways of training.

"As athletes, we're probably better than they were 15 years ago. Having said that, I don't think that our ability to recover is the way it was back then.

"Using whatever it was to manipulate their blood back then would have meant that they could have done that day in, day out.

"Now we'll have one massive stage and you can visibly see that there's a change in pace for the next two to three days. The whole group needs to go slower."

The official Vuelta a Espana departure, as well as two further stages in the 2020 race, will not now be held in the Netherlands due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Utrecht was due to host the opening of this year's race on August 14, but the Dutch government last week banned all sporting events until the start of September.

Stages two and three of the Vuelta, scheduled to start in 's-Hertogenbosch and Breda respectively, have also been cancelled, with no possibility of rescheduling.

There has been talk of the Grand Tour event being pushed back as late as November, with the UCI - cycling's governing body - expected to announced a revised calendar next month.

Vuelta organisers on Wednesday confirmed the race will not get begin until after the UCI Road World Championships, due to be held between September 20-27.

La Vuelta Holanda director Martijn van Hulsteijn said: "It is clear that there is great disappointment in Utrecht, Breda, 's-Hertogenbosch and the provinces of Utrecht and Noord-Brabant.

"We were ready to organise a fantastic event in the weekend of the 14th, 15th and 16th of August.

"Since we heard of the change in the UCI calendar, we have discussed with all parties to find out if the start in the autumn would be possible, but it turned out to be too difficult of an assignment.

"Moving three stages, on three days, through 34 municipalities with start and finish places in various places turned out to be a bridge too far.

"For example, we did not have all the needed infrastructures at our disposal. In addition, a lot of road works were carried out around the 34 participating municipalities in the autumn. The impact would be too great.

"Even if you leave the desirability and uncertainty in corona time out of the discussion."

Chris Froome's burning ambition to add to his haul of seven Grand Tour titles will not be diminished by his injury setback, according to Marcel Kittel.

Froome has been the dominant force of cycling for most of the last decade, with four Tour de France victories underlining his brilliance.

However, the Briton broke a leg, his elbow and suffered fractured ribs after crashing into a wall in a training ride at the Criterium du Dauphine in June.

Doubts have been cast over whether the 34-year-old will be able to return to his best form, and Kittel suggested competition from within Team INEOS could make life even tougher for Froome.

"If you look at Chris Froome as an individual athlete, he has already proven his work ethic over the last few years," Kittel, a stage winner in each of the Grand Tours, told Stats Perform.

"How much time and hard work he puts into his training. Despite his fall, his ambitions are still clear to him.

"One question is just how much he has recovered from his fall and injury. He himself says that it looks good. The other question is how to resolve this within Team INEOS with the additional riders of Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas.

"So how do you go into a Tour with these riders? I imagine that it is very difficult even if the athletes don't play with open cards, to support each other in form or in a team when other teams are strong and attack."

This year's Tour has been pushed back to August 29 after France president Emmanuel Macron banned mass public gatherings until mid-July.

Kittel, who doubts if the race will be able to commence on that date, believes Froome will be among the contenders whenever the event takes place, but said his legacy is secure regardless.

"In the end, Froome will be on par with [Eddy] Merckx," said Kittel.

"He's won all the big tours. He has won the Tour de France four times so far. Maybe he will succeed a fifth time. There are not many riders who have achieved that."

Marcel Kittel remains sceptical about the chances of the Tour de France taking place this year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tour was originally scheduled to start on June 27 but was moved back to August 29 after France president Emmanuel Macron banned mass public gatherings until mid-July.

Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak there have been over 150,000 confirmed cases in France, leading to nearly 20,000 deaths.

Kittel, a 14-time stage winner on the Tour, is still doubtful about the prospect of the race going ahead due to potential logistical issues with no end to the crisis in sight.

He told Stats Perform: "The decision to postpone the Tour is not one to be criticised generally, because it was reasonable to take the time and find a good decision. Due to COVID-19, we must be aware that the new date of the Tour is anything but safe.

"The decision on whether it is justifiable for all participants and the spectators must be made in that moment. I am quite sceptical about this, because I think it is really hard due to the current circumstances to organise such a big event, even if you take precautions.

"The Tour is a massive event, travelling through a complete country with a lot of people involved.

"I hope the right decision will be reached on this issue. I would appreciate it if the Tour could take place, but only with the right conditions"

Kittel added: "If the decision is made by politicians and experts that the Tour can be held in a secure way, then it is something I can rely on. But, right now, I don't see any chance that the Tour can take place in autumn, because a lot of big events have also been cancelled.

"But nobody knows what the situation will look like in six months. We can only wait and see how it will actually develop."

Kittel said that trying to stage the Tour without any fans in attendance "doesn't make any sense at all".

The Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana are now set to be held after the UCI Road World Championships, which takes place in late September.

Kittel does not think finishing the season with three Grand Tours in close succession is fair on either the riders or event organisers, particularly when they take place in the European countries that have been hit hardest by the virus.

"Three Grand Tours in a row is absolutely unrealistic for me, for the organisers but also for the athletes," he said.

"Unless every race is started with different riders – that's something that could work out, although it is also pretty hard for everyone.

"Aside from this, the three Grand Tours are set to take place in France, Italy and Spain - three countries which have been highly affected by COVID-19. I think this idea is not very realistic."

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