Roundtable: Will 2018 route favor Froome? How many can Sagan win?

Oh-Em-Gee, ASO revealed the 2018 Tour de France route Tuesday, and boy is it a doozy! There are dirt roads, pavé, and even a super-short 65km climbing stage. Are our French friends boldly thinking outside of the proverbial grand tour box, or is this route simply a newfangled gimmick? Let’s roundtable!

What was your first reaction when you pulled up the map of the 2018 Tour de France?

Chris Case @chrisjustincase: Hey, that looks like France to me! What’s that? A 65km stage? Oh, so like a third rest day?

Andrew Hood @Eurohoody: Hmmm, had I seen this somewhere before? No, not really, but the suspense of the ‘big show’ to announce the Tour route has been somewhat been diminished from all the leaks and reporting that slowly drips-drips-drips details about the route in the months leading up to today. But that aside, it’s a fantastic route overall, with real challenges, risk-taking design, original planning, without forgetting the history of the Tour. It’s a near-perfect Tour course.

Fred Dreier @freddreier: This gravel movement is officially over — even the Tour de France has gotten on the bandwagon. Pretty soon they’ll be selling cycling fanny packs and 32mm ties at Urban Outfitters.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegsThis is like putting an oversized spoiler and spinner rims on a classic car like a Jaguar E-Type. ASO put a lot of gimmicks into the world’s biggest bike race. It isn’t a good look. But hey, maybe we’ll finally get an exciting race for yellow?

What rider is this route designed to favor?

Chris: I was expecting to see more time trial miles, increasing the likelihood of a duel between Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin. Or, perhaps the thinking is that Dumoulin can handle the cobbles more than other contenders. Or maybe the short, punchy stages are an attempt to give Froome the heebie-jeebies. In any case, the best riders will rise to the occasion. This route, though unique on paper, is still the Tour de France. Ultimately, I think Froome is the man to beat.

Andrew: The survivor. On paper, it might favor the climbers, especially with all the climbs packed into the final half of the Tour. But that run from the Vendée to Roubaix is going to see a few big names out of the frame, as well as some significant time differences even before hitting the climbs. The 2018 Tour winner will be multi-faceted, strong, consistent, and very lucky.

Fred: I think it is designed to not favor any specific GC rider of this generation. It has a challenge for everyone. Since Froome is the most well-rounded grand tour rider right now, then I have to say it suits him best.

Spencer: I guess it favors Sky’s Gianni Moscon because he can finish fifth in Paris-Roubaix then smash the world’s best climbers in the Vuelta? In all seriousness, it favors pure climbers who have enough teammates to keep them safe in the first week and on even time after the TTT. That stage 20 individual time trial is hilly as well.

Which stage will have a bigger impact: Stage 9 and its 21.7km of cobbles or the ultra-short 65km stage 17?

Chris: Much of it will depend on the race situation during those two respective stages, as well as the weather for stage 9. It would be incredible to see another day like we did in 2014 when Vincenzo Nibali crushed it over the slick cobbles, dropping Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara along the way. My God that was awesome.

Andrew: The cobbles will only matter if some big GC riders lose time. Stage 9 is a day to endure and to limit losses. The ultra-short mountain stage in the Pyrenees is one to press the advantage, be it someone looking to defend a lead, or a rival looking to revive their GC ambitions. Aggressive racing, however, will pay off on both days.

Fred: Stage 9 has the potential to have the biggest impact. I’m already preparing for the sad post-stage interviews with Thibaut Pinot, Nairo Quintana, and Romain Bardet.

Spencer: It seems like Tour cobble stages are often duds. That day in 2014 was one exception. I’m expecting fireworks on stage 17 — it climbs right out of the gate and doesn’t relent. Maybe I’m taking a shine to these gimmicks after all …

How many stages will Peter Sagan win this Tour?

Chris: Zero. He will be disqualified on stage 6 for taking on “unauthorized refreshments” from a roadside fan.

Andrew: Two. This year’s course features plenty of lumpy terrain, but it mostly comes in the first half, so the sprinters and stage-hunters won’t be giving away any of their chances. Sagan will be in the top-five nearly every stage that doesn’t finish on a summit or against the clock. Two, maybe three stage-wins, plus the green jersey.

Fred: Three. He can win the cobbled stage, a flat stage, and then one of the punchy stages during the first week.

Spencer: Sorry Sagan, you’ll only win one in 2018. This will be Fernando Gaviria’s Tour when it comes to the sprints.

Which stage will most decide the overall?

Chris: I have to agree with Froome that stage 12 and its 71km of climbing over the Col de La Madeleine, the Col de la Croix de Fer, and Alpe d’Huez offers someone like him the chance to take control of the race by the scruff of its neck.

Andrew: Paris. You gotta survive this “Tour de Ambush” to win, and that means all the way through the final time trial. The boobytraps come thick and often, all the way to Paris. No sleep ’till the Champs.

Fred: I’m with Chris and Chris. l’Alpe d’Huez is a spot where guys can and will lose minutes. Set your TiVo, cycling fans, that stage is one to watch.

Spencer: It’ll come down to the final time trial on stage 20. That day is preceded by a heinously difficult Pyrenean stage — Aspin, Tourmalet, Aubisque. Plus, the TT will be hilly and technical. How appropriate to have a spicy finish in Espelette, the place where they grow pimento peppers.

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Roundtable: Our 2018 Tour de France wishlist

Tour de France organizer ASO will announce the race’s 2018 route on Tuesday, October 17. We know a few things by now. It will start in the Vendée region of western France with a road stage from Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile to Fontenay-le-Comte, including a ride over the infamous Passage du Gois. Stage 2 is another road stage, from Mouilleron-Saint Germain to La Roche-sur-Yon. Stage 3 is around Cholet, suggesting a team time trial could be back in the Tour. There are also rumors of a return to the cobblestones near Roubaix and a trip up Alpe d’Huez.

The rest of the 21-stage “Grande Boucle” is unknown. That’s where we come in. Our panel of experts is taking this opportunity to dream up our wishlist of ways to make the 105th edition the best Tour yet. Let’s roundtable!

Pick two things you want to see in the 2018 Tour route — one practical idea and one WACKY idea.

Fred Dreier @freddreier: We all know that dirt is cycling’s hot trend. So the Tour de France needs to fire up the Future Bass playlist and live in the now, dammit. I say for 2018, the Tour adds some long sections of the Belgian grass/dirt roads that are used in Schaal Sels for the first week of the race. Then, in week three, there’s a day of big, long, dirt climbs in the Pyrenees.

That final stage of the 2017 Hammer Series was so unorthodox and bizarre, and boy did I love it. So my wacky idea is for the TDF to install a bizarre TTT format where the teams leave the start gate like 30 seconds at a time and then are allowed to group together and attack each other as a full TTT squad. The first five riders across the line win! Nacer Bouhanni is already practicing his left hook.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: I want two mountainous stages that are shorter than 120km, ideally one in the Alps and one in the Pyrenees. If you want to get wacky, let’s also run a team time trial on the Roubaix cobblestones early in the race, but make sure those pavé sectors are nice and long — I’m thinking 40km of racing with 39km of cobbles.

Chris Case @chrisjustincase: I’d love to see a big, painful, uphill time trial. Maybe that’s Alpe d’Huez but probably not this year. Better yet, have them tackle the Galibier or Tourmalet. Yes, I want more agony. But what I really want to see is a team competition interlude à la the Hammer Series, with a climb, sprint, and chase component. The video explaining the rules of the Hammer Series is almost two minutes long, so I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say, it will bring a much-needed wacky respite from the doldrums created by Team Sky’s smothering tactics.

Andrew Hood @eurohoody: OK, so we’re doing this eight-rider per team thing this year. But let’s keep an open mind about it. Teams and riders say it is not good for their job security, or for their ability to finish the race. If safety is the true concern, there is a lot more the UCI and race organizers can do. If major grand tours don’t have a discernable safety improvement after this year, bring it back to nine-man teams.

Wacky: How about making this the Tour of short climbs? We’ve seen that the shorter, multi-climb stages are the most thrilling and decisive. So why not pack this Tour with a lot of them? There still have to be longer stages to make it a race of attrition, but when it comes to the mountains, pack in a string of shorter, 100-125km stages, one after another. Three in the Alps, and two more in the Pyrenees. Remember, short is the new long.

Dan Cavallari @browntiedan: I want super-short, super-steep climbing stages on successive days, followed immediately by short, fast sprinter’s stages. Keep the excitement over the course of four or five days to shake up the race and help prevent that feeling of it being a foregone conclusion during the final week. For my wacky idea, let’s kick it old school: flat pedals only on one stage.

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Worlds roundtable: How did Sagan do it?

The finale of Sunday’s UCI Elite Men’s World Championships in Bergen, Norway contained plenty of heart-stopping drama. We watched Julian Alaphilippe zip away from the peloton on Salmon Hill and fly to likely victory, only to have the moto’s TV feed cut out and be replaced by a still shot of a Norwegian sailing ship and a sea of waving Norwegian flags. When the video finally came back, we saw a gruppo compatto peloton thunder to the line, where Peter Sagan took a historic third consecutive win. There was drama. There was salmon. There were oh so many Norwegian flags.

Let’s roundtable!

What was your reaction when the moto camera died with 3km to go?

Fred Dreier @freddreier: Go Alaphil—WHAT? NO! Where is the peloton? Why did the producers switch to clipper ship cam right now? Is this grainy pirated Sporza feed to blame? No! It’s the main feed, and the moto camera must be down! Cookson’s gone for two days and look at the chaos …

Spencer Powlsion @spino_powerlegs: At first I was confused, then I started to get a bit nervous, and finally I just pretended I was there at the finish in Bergen, eating Norwegian salmon and waiting for the peloton to appear around the final bend.

Andrew Hood @Eurohoody: My empathy was with the technical crew. After six-hours-plus of flawless broadcast, something bad had had to have happened. Somewhere in Norway, a few technicians were living their worst nightmare. For the race? There was some unexpected tension in not knowing what was happening up the road. Old-school. When it came through with the bunch together, you knew Sagan had a chance.

Caley Fretz @caleyfretz: There was a time when I was sure that the bootleg live streamers of international cycling were all part of some sort of twisted cabal determined to hide cycling’s best moments from its fans. And so when the feed cut out on Sunday I felt only resignation; the anti-cycling cabal wins again.

Which team missed the opportunity to win?

Fred: Belgium had Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet in perfect position heading into Salmon Hill, and I was sure that Gilbert was going to make it across to Alaphilippe and Moscon, but he either didn’t have the legs to go, or he figured the move would have come back. By my estimation, that threesome (plus perhaps Niki Terpstra) is gone if they crest the climb with the gap that Alaphilippe and Moscon eventually got. Instead, Phil Gil tried his hand with solo flyers on the flats, and that went nowhere. Considering the strength of their team, Belgium really missed out.

Spencer: The Italians had a lot of good cards to play, but none of them delivered in the finale. Matteo Trentin led out the sprint perfectly, except it was perfect for Alexander Kristoff and Peter Sagan. Plus, to add insult to injury, Gianni Moscon was disqualified for a sticky bottle. Honorable mention: Apart from Philippe Gilbert’s short-lived attack, where were the Belgians?

Andy: Australia. They needed to make it harder with two and even three laps to go to get rid of a few more sprinters, or at least made it more difficult for them. Matthews also mentioned how he wasted energy chasing moves over Salmon Hill rather than waiting for it to come back. Italy played it right tactically, but Trentin didn’t quite have the legs to deliver the podium.

Caley: Colombia’s Fernando Gaviria should have been in the sprint for a medal but did far too much work. The rest of the major nations appeared to play the cards they had. There were really only three teams (Norway, Colombia, and Australia) with a reasonable chance of beating Sagan in that sprint, so all those doomed attacks from the Dutch and French and others had to at least be attempted.

What were the key components to Sagan’s victory?

Fred: In interviews with Sagan’s rivals, all of them lament their wasted energy with bad attacks on that final lap. Not Sagan. He kept his powder dry until that final lunge to the line. And perhaps the most important component was his well-timed bike throw. Go back and watch the slow motion replay, and it’s the bike throw that gives Sagan that extra oomph to win.

Spencer: The keys were what you didn’t see on replay. You didn’t see him make any unnecessary early attacks. You didn’t see him make an effort to pull back breakaways. He ghosted through the peloton until the very end. Pure patience. And of course, his super-fast sprint finish is pretty key as well.

Andy: Patience. Sagan was invisible until the final 800m. Even he admitted that he thought the race for gold was over with 5km to go. He astutely followed wheels, and kept his options alive. Positioning was also key going through those final corners. Sagan was perfectly placed on Kristoff’s wheel. Had he been behind Matthews, there would be no triple.

Caley:  Patience. Sagan hasn’t always raced with such a level head, but his patience on Sunday was astounding. After hiding away for hours, he made the decisive splits and didn’t hit the front until he could see the finish line.

The key moments come in those final 2km. The helicopter shot we got later shows a reduced bunch attacking and swarming like sparrows as riders hit out and then are reeled back. Watch Sagan. He’s the most efficiency sparrow, following wheels and jumping from group to group so that he’s always in the one moving quickest.

What is your assessment of Sagan’s 2017 campaign?

Fred: The world championship obviously salvages his year, since the three-peat is such a historic accomplishment. But here’s my hot take: Sagan had a lousy year. Because it’s Sagan, we need to grade him on a curve, and this year lacked a monument and a green jersey. He was outsmarted at MSR, sloppy in Belgium, and the victim of overzealous officiating at le Tour. Here’s hoping for a better 2018.

Spencer: He saved his season with a historic third-consecutive world championship title. Apart from Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, his classics season was fruitless. The stage 3 win at the Tour was nice, but we all know what happened the next day. Sagan is so exceptional that even a 12-win season looks mediocre, so this rainbow jersey came right when he needed it.

Andy: A complete success. Sagan is one of the few riders who can alter any race he’s in. He missed a big monument win this year, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a protagonist in every race he started. The Tour de France was a balk on the race jury’s part, and Sagan came back to deliver sweet revenge when it counted. He’s now in a class of his own.

Caley: The only month in which he didn’t win a race since February was April, classics month, and that’s a pretty good reflection of his season as a whole. It was among his best but, without Flanders or Roubaix, it can’t be called the best.

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Roundtable: Contador goes deep on the Angliru

The 2017 Vuelta a España saved its most dramatic day for the end. On Saturday, the peloton tackled the mighty Alto de l’Angliru climb, and the sport’s stars did not disappoint. Alberto Contador grasped glory one final time in his career. Chris Froome shut the door on his GC rivals. Rain fell in buckets. Fans went berserk. It was a typical day on Spain’s toughest mountain.

Let’s roundtable!

Where does Saturday’s battle on the Angliru rank among the six other editions?

Fred Dreier @freddreier: I’d say third overall. I will forever watch the 2008 edition to see Contador at his apex just bounce away from his rivals with that famous climbing style. And it will be a long time until someone tops the foggy, zany 2013 battle between Chris Horner and Vincenzo Nibali. That edition is still GOAT.

Caley Fretz @caleyfretz: I’d say second overall. The Horner year takes it for sheer oddness. But seeing Contador hit out on the final mountain of his career was something special.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: Second only to 2013 when Chris Horner put the final nail in Vincenzo Nibali’s coffin as the Italian went down in a blaze of glory. This year’s vintage was so good because of all the uncertainty. Could Contador really hang on after escaping so early? Would he swoop onto the podium? Should Froome set Poels free to spoil the party? There was so much to play for in stage 20.

Andrew Hood @Eurohoody: Every Angliru battle is a movie unto itself. Contador’s final charge was impressive on many levels. Housewives and journalists across Spain were in tears when the “Pistolero” was first across the line. The ingredients added up to be a perfect goodbye for Spain’s biggest cycling star. My personal favorite was the first. I’ve only seen it on YouTube, but I was lucky enough to have interview Jose Maria Jimenez a few times before his tragic death. He was a gifted and troubled cyclist, but that first Angliru summit finale was a dive into the great unknown.

What were the most important factors that contributed to Contador’s stage victory?

Fred: The most important factor was that Contador laid an egg back in week one and lost three minutes on that stage in Andorra. Contador entered the Angliru stage 3:34 behind Froome, so Froome knew he could give him more than a minute’s leash. The other factor was the strength of Wout Poels. Had Froome been isolated, then the GC contenders may have launched some attacks, which could have whipped up the pace and closed the gap to Contador. Instead, Poels was there to set a hard pace, quelling any potential attacks.

Caley: It was no gift, that’s for sure. Froome wanted to get him back. The weather played a role, but here’s my flaming hot take: I think what really did it was how much faster Contador is on those steeps. His out of the saddle style is better suited to them.

Spencer: As it’s been all Vuelta, Contador relied on loyal teammates — in this case, Jarlinson Pantano, for the most part — to set him up with enough lead to be in with a shot. The second key was Contador’s experience. He’s ridden alone to victory here before. It’s essential to know how to pace oneself on such a tough climb. As we saw, he nearly went too deep and cracked in the final kilometer.

Andy: Two key elements added up to Contador’s win. First, his desire to win. He simply had an extra gear Saturday because he knew it was his final shot, and gave absolutely everything. He attacked on the descent of the Cordal, along with teammate Pantano, giving him an important head-start to the GC riders. He took a big risk by attacking by so far back, but no one has more drive and ambition than Contador. Second, Nibali’s crash on the descent of the Cordal shaped the final Angliru climb. Nibali just didn’t have it to attack Froome, so the final climb was more constant for Froome. Had Nibali attacked, Froome would have gone after him, and likely would have kept going to ride more aggressively for the stage win.

How would you assess Chris Froome’s strategy?

Fred: I wouldn’t be surprised if someday, decades from now, Froome admits that he decided not to slam the door on El Pistolero in those final two kilometers.

Caley: Conservative. But that’s what it had to be.

Spencer: I give it two flailing elbows and one carefully watched power meter — in other words, textbook Froome. He had henchmen with him from bottom to top. He put in one measured dig when he knew he could bury Nibali. Simple, effective, and boring.

Andy: Smart. He did what he had to do. Avoiding risks was more important than trying to go for one more big win. And he won himself a lot of friends in Spain by not chasing down Contador. Froome said Contador was too strong, but Froome was quickly gaining time in the final kilometers. Since Froome didn’t see any direct challenges on the Angliru, he really didn’t have to attack at all.

What was your favorite moment of the stage and why?

Fred: When Poels and Froome gave chase, and the gap shrunk from a minute to 25 seconds, I had to stand up and walk outside and scream. I really wanted Contador to win. It’s those tense and emotional moments that remind us why we watch cycling. This year’s grand tours delivered so few of those moments it was nice to be reminded of them.

Caley: As Contador’s lead slowly dwindled you could just feel the pain, desperation even inside him. At about 2.5k to go we seemed to reach peak Contador.

Spencer: By now, most of you know I love cycling’s will-they-won’t-they moments. What can I say, I grew up on 90’s rom/coms! So those final two kilometers were deliciously suspenseful. Contador looked to be flagging. Poels was pouring it on. Plus the other podium spots were in play as Ilnur Zakarin attacked a struggling Wilco Kelderman. Pure magic.

Andy: The entirety of the climb was a pleasure to watch. Contador is such an iconic figure in Spain. To see him attacking from the bottom, and arriving solo for victory in front of his fans on Spain’s hardest climb was sublime. As he said himself, there was no better way for Contador to leave the sport.

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Vuelta roundtable: Nibali vs. Froome

At the halfway point, the 2017 Vuelta a España has had ample action. We had a punchy uphill finish in stage 3, a tricky day on stage 5, and of course, Chris Froome put his foot down on stage 9. However, stage 11 was the first true mountain stage with a summit finish. What do we make of the GC race? Is Froome vs. Nibali a legit matchup? Why does Astana keep hoping Fabio Aru will do something? Let’s roundtable!

Who are your three winners and three losers from stage 11?

Spencer Powlison, @spino_powerlegsMy winners: Anyone who had a rain jacket to put on at the top of the first categorized climb; farmers in southern Spain who needed that torrential rain; oh yeah, and Chris Froome — big-time winner in stage 11.

The losers are: Ag2r because Romain Bardet’s incessant attacking still hasn’t worked and Domenico Pozzovivo abandoned. Ice vests are also a loser today … Nobody needed to cool off for this stage. And my third and final loser is Gianni Moscon. Come on man! You couldn’t smash it for just a few more kilometers and win a stage to cap off a lovely ride through the Spanish countryside? Jeeze … Sky’s gonna come down hard on the Italian for slacking off so much today.

Andrew Hood, @eurohoody: In the ‘winners’ category: Froome doubles his lead, Nibali moves into second, and ‘Superman’ Lopez confirms his promise.

The ‘losers?’ BMC’s double-threat sunk from the top-5 to out of the top-10; De la Cruz had an ill-timed mechanical that cost him a lot, and the dampening sense of suspense in the GC. Froome is put a stranglehold on this Vuelta.

Caley Fretz, @caleyfretz: Winners are easy. Vincenzo Nibali, Wilco Kelderman, and Froome. Nibali and Kelderman because they both launched up the overall (11th to 5th for Kelderman, 4th to 2nd for Nibali). Froome because after letting the initial attacks go he reeled them in and didn’t lose a single second.

Three losers? Fabio Aru is out of contention now, Nicholas Roche dropped like a rock, and Tejay van Garderen lost over three minutes. Aru still has a shot at the podium (3rd-8th are tightly packed) but he won’t take much confidence from Wednesday’s stage.

Was the weather a significant factor in stage 11?

Spencer: How often does more than half of the breakaway get dropped on a descent midway through the stage? That happened today. Sure, Bardet and Yates were shredding that descent, but I think those other fellas were too cold to keep up. Cold legs might have ruined the day for a few other GC guys like Fabio Aru and Esteban Chaves as well.

Andrew: It was a yuuuuge! factor. Temperatures went from the high 90s to the low 50s in little more than 36 hours. Add wind, cold, and the Vuelta’s first true mountain stage, and it was one very hard stage. Staying fueled and recovery is critical for all the GC hopes right now.

Caley: It certainly appears that way. The Yates brothers suffered, Romain Bardet didn’t look his normal self. Nicholas Roche had an awful day, dropping outside the top 10, and tweeted that he’d really like summer to come back.

The GC battle looks like Nibali vs. Froome… How do you handicap this matchup?

Spencer: Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch to put these two on equal footing, but let me try to spice up this 21-day plate of cycling paella. Nibali has the edge when it comes to attacking unconventional stages — more of those to come this Vuelta. Froome is going to be better on pure summit finishes. (But he wasn’t that much better in stage 11.) Froome also has an edge in the time trial, but Nibali isn’t awful against the clock like some other GC guys. Though Nibali doesn’t have team support like Froome, I think he can rely on someone like Alberto Contador on those unpredictable, tricky stages.

Andrew: I see this Vuelta already as a race for the podium. Froome now needs only to follow wheels and avoid unnecessary risks, and then consolidate his lead at the Logroño TT on Tuesday. Barring a dramatic, Formigal-style coup, Nibali won’t be able to take back enough time on Froome to seriously challenge for red. Having said that, Nibali is a very dangerous rival. Froome cannot afford to let down his guard.

Caley: Nibali can do a good time trial, but he’s still going to lose 45 seconds, minimum, to Froome over 40k. He’s 1:19 down now. So if we’re talking handicaps, Nibbles needs a solid two minutes.

Should Astana be riding for Lopez rather than Aru?

Spencer: Maybe it’s presumptuous to cut Aru loose at the Vuelta’s halfway point, but I have yet to see the Italian do anything notable in this race. Maybe it would do Lopez some good to ride for a GC result to test the waters?

Andrew: Lopez came to this Vuelta without GC pressure, with an eye of winning a stage and making it all the way to Madrid to complete his first grand tour. The highly talented climber already is protected, so Astana will be looking to push them as high as possible on GC. This late in the season, it’s more of a question of who has the legs.

Caley: Nah. It’s early, and ‘Superman’ Lopez is young. He could still crack spectacularly. So could Aru, of course, but it’s slightly less likely. Plus neither is going to win the Vuelta, and riding for Lopez would just make Aru angry. Do you really want to make your top GC guy angry for so little gain?

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