Étape of the Day – Arm in arm across the line!

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The Tour de France always creates stories year after year. It excites, entertains and is of course brutal. The power of La Grand Boucle can carry you over the line, give you strength and determination, but most of all pride. So much admiration for Ineos Grenadiers today after a superb double-act secured a well-deserved stage win for a team that hasn’t achieved its aims but will finish the Tour with something to savour.

Finishing arm in arm after going in the break it is no surprise that the stage win for Ineos Grenadiers was filled with emotion. Determination after the death of director sportif Nico Portal on top of smiles at the line as Michał Kwiatkowski wins his first Grand Tour stage – thoroughly deserved for a man who’s sacrificed himself over the years to deliver Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal Tour success. To add further gloss to the Ineos performance they now have Richard Carapaz leading the King of the Mountain classification – a superb day for the team.

To lose their main man just two days ago it is testament to Ineos Grenadiers for trying everything they can to get in a break, go for stage wins and now maybe seal the polka-dot jersey. While it isn’t the result Dave Brailsford and co would have wanted today’s, stage served a reminder that the team still have talent within their ranks. While Tour de France dominance is over, the drawing board changes the team will return.

You must be made of solid stuff to go in the break three times over three days and not take a stage win. To his credit Richard Carapaz has done immense work to try after team disappointment but helping Kwiatkowski to his first stage at a Grand Tour is quite a moment. Carapaz enters the polka-dot jersey but can he keep it until Paris? With Bernal dropping out, the Ecuadorian has been given freedom to attack – it would be a mini triumph for Ineos if he could hold the jersey.

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So many races in one stage today! Primož Roglič and Jumbo-Visma once again got through the day, Roglič just has one final time trial to get over before Paris. He will be the Slovenian rider happy with the gaps between himself and those behind him, Tadej Pogačar 57 seconds down shouldn’t trouble Roglič much. Pogačar though could still take the polka-dot jersey off Richard Carapaz but for sure he’s guaranteed the white jersey and second overall.

If there’s one rider you have to feel for it is Richie Porte suffering from bad luck once again. Just like his former Sky teammate Chris Froome, he got a flat front wheel on the Glières plateau, but thankfully he didn’t lose any time. He managed to claw back the leaders but it was not the bad luck you want in order to attack. The final time trial does offer up an opportunity for Richie Porte to sneak onto the podium if Miguel Ángel López has a bad day which he has in the past against the clock.

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Great ride by Enric Mas who’s quietly ridden himself up to sixth overall but at the expense of both Adam Yates and Rigoberto Urán who lost significant amounts of time today. Every sprinter made the time cut today except André Greipel who abandoned to become the 27th rider to leave the race. Sam Bennett finds himself in green with three stages remaining – the mountains are behind him so surely; he will make Paris now with green on his back.

A mention must go to Marc Hirschi today. After winning one stage, getting in the break today made it clear that Team Sunweb were chasing more. If Hirschi hadn’t of crashed then his probability of winning the stage could have been higher. Disappointing to see him crash after over-cooking a descent but take nothing away from the young man he’s had a fantastic Tour.

Tomorrow will be an easy day for the GC men. Only one category 4 climb, expect Peter Sagan and Matteo Trentin to get in the break to put late pressure on Sam Bennett but overall Stage 19 should be one for the breakaway. It is a lumpy day not entirely flat but teams who have no stage wins to show should go in the break.

Another day down with Paris on the horizon. A sweet day for Ineos Grenadiers, no trouble for Primož Roglič and great to see Sam Bennett survive the time cut. Days like today remind us that cycling is such a brilliant sport to watch!

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Étape of the Day – Rog and Pog battle royale!

Featured image courtesy of Cor Vos/Cycling Tips

The 2020 Tour de France is not the usual Tour de France that we love for a whole range of reasons. Face masks are the obvious difference and today we saw no crowds allowed at the top of the Grand Colombier. This is a Tour de France in September, the first Grand Tour of the year and always with a lingering fear of coronavirus halting the race before Paris. It’s also a Tour that has surprised us, the yearly script ripped up, a new team dominating the road and a young man who’s riding out of his skin.

We knew that today’s stage from Lyon to Grand Colombier was arguably the day that decided who would be in pole position to win the Tour – we got an answer. After winning every edition bar three between 2010 and 2019, the dominance of Team Ineos (or Team Sky as they were known) has finally been broke, the elastic holding the team together has snapped. Egan Bernal suffered to lose almost seven and a half minutes to Primož Roglič, his defence of last year’s victory up in smoke and Bernal even finds himself in a battle to reach the top ten let alone thinking about winning the Tour overall.

It is without question that Team Ineos are not as strong as Jumbo-Visma and we’ve known this for a long while regardless of whether this year’s Tour de France isn’t being raced at its usual time. A delayed Tour in September won’t be an excuse. After a back injury from the Dauphiné could that be the reason? Bernal did look good when the race arrived in the Pyrenees but Stage 13 atop Puy Mary saw time lost and today on Stage 15, he won’t be winning back-to-back Tours.

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There’s lots of talk on social media that Dave Brailsford has made a mistake by not taking Geraint Thomas, who’s riding well at Tirreno-Adriatico right now and four-times Tour champion Chris Froome who moves to pastures new for 2021. Both riders were out of form before the Tour so it is hard to read whether Thomas or Froome would’ve ridden into form. Chris Froome probably wouldn’t have been much better but Geraint Thomas considering how he’s riding in Italy right now would’ve been the better rider.

It is now irrelevant what we all say about who should’ve gone where. Even if Geriant Thomas had of started the Tour, Bernal would perhaps be still suffering despite the argument that Thomas could have been the perfect backup. Brailsford has made decision after decision to deliver Tour de France dominance year after year – for 2020 it hasn’t gone to plan. You have to question why Richard Carapaz was brought in to ride the Tour when he’s never ridden the race before and in Andrey Amador yes, he’s crashed on Stage 1 but he has simply not performed as a super domestique.

Team Ineos in decline is Jumbo-Visma’s gain. Since the 2018 Tour de France we’ve known for a while that the Dutch outfit are the best placed to take on Ineos and knock them off their Tour perch. That is exactly what they’ve done at this Tour. Jumbo-Visma have the numbers, the strongest riders and far more experience than the Ineos train. Primož Roglič is in prime position to win his second Grand Tour, his first Tour de France and he’ll be in contention to do it with the best domestiques. Tom Dumoulin isn’t at his strongest but continues to ride well considering his awful injury at last year’s Giro, Sepp Kuss was once again fantastic to watch and Wout Van Aert near enough put on the pace up the entire climb.

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Jumbo-Visma are the best team at this Tour. At times they’ve looked a little shaky but during week one they rode a more conservative race to take the jersey in the Pyrenees and hold it all the way to Paris. It is now Primož Roglič’s yellow jersey to lose but he might be looking nervously over his shoulder as there’s a fellow Slovenian nine years his junior who is riding as though he’s already won the Tour de France already! Tadej Pogačar is a new revelation, a supreme talent, could yet challenge Roglič for yellow, has a stage in the Pyrenees to his name and just like he did in the Vuelta, today beat Roglič to add another stage atop the Grand Colombier – it doesn’t get any better.

You cannot deny that Pogačar will finish at least finish on the podium and take the white jersey unless disaster strikes. The only disadvantage he has is domestiques yet as we saw today, he used the wheels of the Jumbo-Visma train to great effect to edge out Roglič and win the stage. Jumbo-Visma’s gameplan was to leave it to the final kilometres and set up Primož Roglič for the win only for Pogačar to have other ideas. A long way to go but there’s no doubt that a Grand Tour victory will come Pogačar’s way soon.

With Bernal falling out of contention there’s now a tight race for the final podium spot. Egan Bernal wasn’t the only Colombian suffering today as Nairo Quintana lost considerable chunks of time but for EF’s Rigoberto Urán and Astana’s Miguel Ángel López there’s a chance they could take third place. Urán has finished on the podium before, López is riding his first Tour but other GC favourites could scupper their plans. Adam Yates had a go today, is now fifth, still looking for a stage win and Richie Porte is riding well, that elusive Tour podium not out of the question.

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Elsewhere the lead for Benoit Cosnefroy in the polka-dot jersey is now under threat because of Tadej Pogačar’s stage win and Primož Roglič isn’t far behind. The Alps are still to come and that’s also the next obstacle for the sprinters who made the time cut – Sam Bennett in control of his own destiny to keep the green jersey all the way to Paris.

The second rest day tomorrow, week two is done as the Tour moves into the third and final week. Ineos will have to change their plans for the race, Jumbo-Visma just cannot be stopped, Primož Roglič is five stages away from another Grand Tour, Tadej Pogačar continues to make waves and the fight for the podium will intensify further.

Étape of the Day – Slovenia are at it again!

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For each and every rider a rest day will be well deserved after a relentless first week at the Tour de France. The climbing has been non-stop, the crashes have been unfortunate and the sprints breath-taking. Stage 9 saw the finale of the first week in the Pyrénées with a 153 km route from Pau to Laruns via some tough summits including the Col de Marie Blanque before the final descent to the line.

Similar to yesterday we saw a breakaway rider try ever so hard to win the stage. Nans Peters was successful in Loudenvielle, Team Sunweb’s Marc Hirschi however didn’t quite complete the job. The young Swiss rider is having a great Tour despite him not taking the stage, to ride like he did today at his age – lots of great things are still to come from Hirschi who deserves the combativity award.

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Cycling’s new nation of superstars are at it again!

The Tour heads into the rest day with a new race leader. Pre-race favourite Primož Roglič is our new leader in yellow, the perfect position for Jumbo-Visma to be in ahead of the first rest day. The Slovenian was once again on form, took second on the stage to take key bonus seconds and will now do everything in his power to keep yellow all the way to Paris. Roglič has a stage win under his belt, Jumbo-Visma have been the dominant team despite a few moments where domestiques were going out the back. Sepp Kuss looked better today so all in all they’ll be satisfied with how week one has fared after three stage wins and now the lead of the race.

Last year’s Vuelta was a huge historic moment for Slovenia, so could history be made further for the country at the Tour de France? After losing time in the crosswinds on Stage 7 two stages in the Pyrénées have been the perfect tonic for young Tadej Pogačar. At 21 years old he becomes the youngest stage winner at the Tour in the 21st century and has clawed back precious time to move himself up to seventh overall, 44 seconds behind his Slovenian compatriot. Pogačar breathes confidence and he has provided entertainment for us at home. You have to feel for Marc Hirschi riding well and denied the stage win but that’s bike racing – Pogačar now has stage success at the Tour one year on from the Vuelta.

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The GC is tight after week one. Going into the rest day both pre-race favourites are in first and second – Primož Roglič and Egan Bernal. Ineos Grenadiers have not been at their best and that’s not an unfair criticism. The numbers game has been won by Jumbo-Visma but then again, the numbers game won’t matter if you don’t deliver yellow come Paris.

The defending champion Egan Bernal is still in a good position in fact today was his best showing as he attacked twice on the Marie Blanque but couldn’t quite distance his rivals. It’s a hard race, it’s a mountainous Tour, it’s still in the balance for Bernal to defend his title. At this point last year, the young Colombian was behind Geraint Thomas on GC, not excelling on the climbs but still in the mix to make the podium. Bernal has a challenge on his hands, Dave Brailsford always has a plan up his sleeve, Ineos have to find a new way to win the Tour. They are still in the hunt.

Who were the winners and losers from Stage 9? We’ve mentioned Roglič, Pogačar and Bernal so what about the French prospects after Thibaut Pinot’s horror show yesterday? Guillaume Martin and Romain Bardet both lost 11 seconds on GC but Martin himself remains in third overall and Bardet just behind his compatriot. Cofidis haven’t won a stage at the Tour since 2008 – could Guillaume Martin end that drought? We saw him attack yesterday so perhaps he was paying for his efforts today. A long way to go but Martin is turning out to be the surprise package at this year’s race. Romain Bardet also looks a rejuvenated rider. He’s participating in his last Tour de France for AG2R La Mondiale so one more Grand Boucle to make his team proud?

Colombia are once again having an excellent Tour de France. We know that Egan Bernal became the nation’s first Colombian winner of the yellow jersey last year but for 2020 could we see two Colombians make the podium? Nairo Quintana couldn’t close the gaps on the attacks today but still looks fresh ahead of week two and EF’s Rigoberto Urán is once again putting in good performances at the Tour. He may not be able to repeat his fantastic second place behind Chris Froome in 2017 but a top placing on GC isn’t out of the question. One rider from Colombia who didn’t have a good day was Miguel Ángel López who find himself outside the top ten one minute fifteen seconds behind Roglič.

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Mikel Landa is once again shining bright; Richie Porte is in with a shout of a top ten but the big casualties are Movistar’s Enric Mas and Bora-Hansgrohe’s Emanuel Buchmann. Both teams aren’t having the greatest of Tours, Movistar haven’t done much despite leading the team classification and even though Peter Sagan is in green, not much to shout about for Bora either. Buchmann to be fair did suffer from a crash at the Dauphiné so is unsurprisingly suffering.

A final word must go to Adam Yates who found himself in yellow after bizarre circumstances, rode strong to avoid the crosswind chaos on Stage 7, hung onto the jersey after Stage 8 but wasn’t able to follow the wheels today. He’s out of the maillot jaune but has done a tremendous job in honouring the jersey and making more history for British cycling. The objective now changes for Mitchelton-Scott as they’ll target stage wins for Yates and there will also be opportunities in the sprints for Luka Mezgec.

No change in the green jersey standings as Sam Bennett remains seven points behind Peter Sagan. Benoit Cosnefroy still has the polka-dot jersey and Egan Bernal shoulders the white jersey although Tadej Pogačar could be a threat to him in the weeks ahead.

One non finisher today and a blow to Tadej Pogačar himself with key domestique Fabio Aru leaving the race. Never nice to see a rider leave the Tour and we hope to see Aru back at his best in the not too distant future.

Week one is over, the Tour is on rest day number one. There is still the lingering cloud of coronavirus over the race and it’s particularly annoying when you see spectators not wearing face masks properly. The race moves to the Atlantic coast to begin week two – the 107th Tour rolls on…

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Dissecting the Dauphiné – Stage 2

Featured image courtesy of Criterium du Dauphiné

As the weeks go by, as the Tour gets ever closer, we cannot help but wonder whether times are changing. We’ve got a serious battle on our hands between a team that has dominated the Tour de France since 2012 and a team looking to usurp their crown.

Stage 2 of the Dauphiné was the first big test of the five day’s as the race reached the Col de Porte, high above the city of Grenoble and another hurdle overcome yet again by Jumbo-Visma, Primož Roglič wins another one after victory at the Tour de l’Ain last week.

Time to do some dissecting…

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Hats off to CCC’s Michael Schär who went off in the break to sweep up some mountain points in the KOM jersey alongside numerous companions including Groupama FDJ’s Bruno Armirail. They were both caught on the final climb and immediately we saw the usual sight we’ve been accustomed to at the Tour and Dauphiné in recent years – Team Ineos controlling the pace and causing other favourites to struggle.

It looked like the usual gameplan, keep up the pace, put others in the hurt locker and then allow your leader to wrap things up – yet Ineos did it too early!

Jonathan Castroviejo and Michał Kwiatkowski did turns and Chris Froome is clearly on domestique duty but how surprising was it to see Geraint Thomas not go further, Pavel Sivakov struggle and Egan Bernal not keep up with Primož Roglič when he attacked in the final kilometre.

We saw glimpses at the Tour last year that Ineos had their moments in controlling the pace they certainly did not dominate. For this year’s Tour they certainly have met their match in a Jumbo-Visma team that just gets better and better the more you watch them.

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Wout Van Aert yesterday, Primož Roglič today – it’s turning out to be a superb season for Jumbo-Visma despite the season itself being disrupted and mixed up. Roglič took the win with ease, mirroring exactly what he did at the Tour de l’Ain with Ineos falling away, Bernal isolated and the current Vuelta champion taking victory. Also let’s not forget Sepp Kuss in all this who again did some great work to help the current Slovenian road champion.

It’s all down to team tactics but surely Jumbo-Visma will have looked at today and think they’ve played a very good game. Tom Dumoulin and Steven Kruijswijk did fall back which could be a little pointer as to who’s in the best shape but overall Ineos did all the work before the yellow troops pounced.

Cycling is complicated to describe but let’s just say that Jumbo-Visma are the form team, Ineos still have questions to answer and other names are still in the hunt.

One piece of encouragement Ineos will take is Primož Roglič himself winning now before the Tour has even begun. Think back to last year – wins at the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico, impressive form for the Slovenian before faltering in weeks two and three at the Giro.

The Dauphiné isn’t over yet, the Tour hasn’t even started – there’s a long way to go!

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Other points to discuss include the winners and losers.

French fans will be bittersweet with Thibaut Pinot putting in a good effort in the finish but last year’s Tour de France hero Julian Alaphilippe struggled on the Col de Porte. Riding for stage wins and aiming for the polka-dot jersey – could that finally be the answer to his goal for the Tour? There’s also another Frenchman to add to the mix as Cofidis’s Guillaume Martin finished fourth on the stage – one to watch?

After crashing yesterday, Emanuel Buchmann bounced back to finish third and the top ten consisted of three Colombians. Apart from Bernal, Nairo Quintana yet again looked strong, Miguel Ángel López always produces decent results alongside Daniel Martínez for EF although Martínez’s teammates Rigoberto Urán struggled and Sergio Higuita crashed before the climb.

Tadej Pogačar once again looked impressive but surprising to see his key domestiques Davide Formolo and David de la Cruz blowing up quickly. It was sad to see Dan Martin fall before the final climb. The Israel Start-Up Nation rider will be left disappointed that a silly crash for no reason stopped him from possibly having a go in the finale.

Also from a British point of view, surprising to see Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates falling backwards way before the finish – but there’s still time to get more racing in the legs. Perhaps a bit harsh as this was Adam Yates’s first official race after cycling was halted – maybe just race fatigue.

Ride of the day belongs to Groupama-FDJ’s Bruno Armirail and team of the day was Jumbo-Visma – who else!

Three stages to go…

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End of an era: An inevitable conclusion for Chris Froome and Team INEOS

After months of speculation, it is now no secret that seven-time Grand Tour winner Chris Froome will not be having his contract renewed with Team INEOS after 2020. So why now? Why is this big news for cycling and what next for Froome?

First things first, the talk of a mid-season transfer is now put to bed. For 2021 he’ll be riding for Israel Start-Up Nation but it’s clear that if Froome rides this year’s rescheduled Tour de France it will be his last with the British team. To enter the special club of five star winners is going to be tough but an announcement before the race has even begun will open up more speculation about team selection and internal rivalry.

Team INEOS are accustomed to media spotlight with Tour de France dominance since 2012 so the pressure will be on them to deliver as the dominant team, so could this news cause everything to fall apart or strengthen the team further?

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Let’s not hide away from the facts. 14 Grand Tour stage wins, one Giro d’Italia, two Vuelta a España and four Tour de France titles since 2011 – Chris Froome is one of the greatest tour riders of his generation.

Despite the Giro victory, 2018 didn’t go to plan with Geraint Thomas clearly the stronger rider and in 2019 Froome’s crash at the Dauphiné scuppered his plans to ride for a fifth title hence Egan Bernal’s victory and Thomas’s second place last year.

Regardless of his critics, his haters and the controversy surrounding the salbutamol case, which he was later cleared of, you cannot deny that Froome’s victories are nothing more than remarkable. Tactically spot on, overcoming difficulties and having a will to win – that has to be admired.

The turning point was 2017 with Geraint Thomas going for sole leadership at the Giro with an ambition to win Grand Tours plus Froome not at his absolute best to secure his fourth yellow jersey alongside an historic Tour-Vuelta double. Holding three Grand Tours at once in 2018 plus Geraint Thomas’s quality, certainly threw the cat among the pigeons.

To make things more complicated it was Froome’s almost career-ending crash at the Dauphiné that gave Thomas the green light for leadership only for Egan Bernal to win yellow. With Geraint Thomas not knowing how last year’s Tour would’ve finished with the weather affecting the final two stages in the Alps, Bernal’s triumph added more internal ambition.

Still with me?

Managing individual aspirations on the road will be interesting. How will INEOS deal with the situation and that’s only if Chris Froome starts the Tour. Bernal’s comments that he won’t sacrifice himself if he’s at 100 per cent and Geraint Thomas having a stake in claiming his second Tour title adds all sorts of spice to this year’s Tour de France. 

The aim will surely be to see how each rider fares up until the third week and see who is in the best shape to win overall. It’ll therefore come down to team management and tactics, in the hope that nothing unfortunate happens.

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Make no mistake this is a huge moment for cycling. It’ll signal the end of Sir Dave Brailsford’s partnership with Chris Froome and quoted from the team website, Brailsford says:

“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”

I’m sure there’s a mix of sadness and pride within Brailsford’s mindset, his knowledge that he cannot guarantee leadership but joy in what he’s seen Froome achieve. The future of Team INEOS now lies in the talent of youngsters. Egan Bernal is only 23-years of age and has plans to win every Grand Tour, newly appointed 2019 Giro champion Richard Carapaz certainly won’t want to stop at just one Grand Tour, Pavel Sivakov has a bright future plus British duo Tao Geoghegan-Hart and Owain Doull could easily develop themselves as mountain goats in my personal opinion.

Rumours of Geraint Thomas transferring to other squads has always been talked out and I think that will be another inevitable outcome, unless I’m proved otherwise. The future is with new emerging talent and in INEOS their future isn’t going to rely on Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas forever. I’m certainly not writing them both off but times do change.

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This isn’t new for cycling and not new for Team INEOS but it could signal a shift in Tour de France dominance. Jumbo-Visma have competed and continue to look strong, Movistar might get their house in order, Thibaut Pinot stands the best chance in ending French pain for over 35 years plus new Grand Tour talent is emerging across the peloton. Israel Start-Up Nation under the ownership of Israeli-Canadian property developer Sylvan Adams have targets of their own after being upgraded from pro-contintental to World Tour level.

Sole leadership is what Froome seeks and he’ll certainly get that in 2021. One last chance to win a fifth Tour with Team INEOS is going to be hard. In recent years he hasn’t been in the best form at the Tour and if it wasn’t for his crash last year, who knows what could’ve been the final outcome!

In my own personal opinion this was the news cycling fans were all expecting. The end of Chris Froome’s leadership at Team INEOS and a new future for the British team. Lots of respect to him and lots of challenges for Froome still to conquer.

The big question is what will his position be if he starts this year’s Tour? After the crash, what will his physical form look like? Look out for the 29th August because this year’s rescheduled Tour de France is going to be epic.

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