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Tour d'Attrition

The 2014 Tour de France was turned on its head once again Monday after Alberto Contador crashed on the rain-slicked descent of the day’s second-rated climb and was forced to abandon the race.

Though he remounted the bike after the crash and tried to soldier on, he eventually succumbed and discovered later at the hospital that he had fractured his tibia.

The two-time Tour champ’s departure comes just five days after Chris Froome went down on wet roads and was also forced to quit. Contador and Froome took the start line on July 5 as the favorites, though Vincenzo Nibali and his team Astana commandeered the race lead in Stage 2. Contador and Froome were the only two racers in this year’s Tour who had previously won the event, and their departures ensure that the race will have a new champion.

After last Wednesday’s treacherous cobbled stage, there was much handwringing over whether or not the pavé has a rightful place in the Tour. Critics argued that the rough roads were too dangerous for the high speeds and nervous racing of the Tour and that they put the lightweight GC contenders at too much risk.  

The whole discussion misses the point, especially in light of Contador’s crash. On Stage 5, it wasn’t the cobbles that caused the chaos, but the rain: Froome, Valverde, and Van Garderen all went down on rain-soaked smooth pavement.

Similarly, the wet roads and heavy rain surely contributed to bringing Contador down. In the same way that no one is likely to argue that the race should skip the mountains in the name of rider safety, there shouldn’t even be a conversation about whether cobbles are appropriate.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme put it best after Froome’s unfortunate crash. He said he was sad to see the Brit leave the race, but maintained that the winner of the Tour de France must be a complete rider

A bit of luck helps, too.

And as always, one rider’s misfortune is another’s advantage. With both Froome and Contador gone, Nibali, who was already looking ready for the fight, now has to be considered the top contender to win the Tour de France. The Italian was expected to grapple with Contador on today’s final climb to La Planche des Belles Filles, but with the Spaniard out, Nibali rode away with the race to regain the yellow jersey and consolidate his lead. He now sits two minutes and 23 seconds ahead. 

Other, lesser favorites also benefited, including American Tejay Van Garderen, Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, Omega Pharma’s up-and-comer Michael Kwiatowski, Dutchman Bauke Mollema, and Belgium’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck. All of those racers moved up the standings.

After Nibali, Team Sky is arguably the biggest beneficiary of Contador’s departure. When Chris Froome went out of the race, many questioned whether Sky had made a mistake leaving home Bradley Wiggins.

However the team rallied around super-domestique Richie Porte, and the Aussie has ridden consistently to silence the doubters and move to second overall on GC. Besides, given how harsh the race has been to past Tour winners, Wiggins may be lucky to be sitting comfortably at home.

With the two biggest favorites out, it’s easy to write this race off as over. And it’s true that Nibali now seems a shoo-in for the win. But given the tumult of the first 10 days of racing, the only thing that seems certain about this Tour is that nothing is certain.

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Just Add Water

It's hot. Time to take to the water. But before you hit the beach, the river, or the bar, make sure you're ready for the sun and the sand. These 10 products will help:  

Battenwear Overhang Shorts ($207)

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Battenwear’s 100 percent cotton Overhang shorts look like casual sixties surf trunks, but they’re cut to move: an extra diamond-shaped panel in the inseam allows for deep knee bends. Add a nylon belt and zippered pocket in the front, and you’ve got the only layer you need for that beach-volleyball-bouldering-BBQ triathlon.

Helinox Chair One ($100)

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Camp chairs are typically uncomfortable or heavy or clunky—or all of the above. Not the Helinox Chair One. With minimal effort, it transforms from a hoagie-size bag into a sturdy mesh lounger. The aluminum poles are strong enough to hold a 320-pounder, while the chair itself weighs only two pounds. Most important, it’s damned comfortable. Taut shock cord makes the bomber seat feel spring loaded, and the backrest has just the right amount of give.

Carlisle Taboo Paddle ($85)

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You’ll be hard pressed to find a paddle that’s more versatile than the aluminum Carlisle Taboo. Others may weigh less, but the 13-ounce Taboo’s detachable parts let you reconfigure it from a kayak paddle into a 75- or 82-inch SUP stick. Even better: it won’t break the bank.

La Maquina Longboard ($995)

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These days, many surfboards are mass-produced by machines. But most beach communities still have a few dedicated local shapers—guys like Kyle “Juicebox” Johnson, who has been handcrafting longboards in Santa Cruz, California, for the past four years. His La Maquina longboard has the look and feel of a traditional log, but the way it accelerates after takeoff is decidedly modern. Credit the flat nose and wide front half, which increases the planing area as you move up the board. It trims great down the line and still turns like butter.

Jackson Karma RG Kayak ($1,249)

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The initials in Jackson’s Karma RG kayak stand for “rock gardening”—where paddlers use whitewater skills to play in coastal surf zones. But this boat’s utility goes way beyond dodging submerged boulders and charging sea caves. The flat hull is great for beginners, while deck rigging and a nine-inch rear hatch make it perfect for multi-day river trips.

Alite Meadow Mat ($39)

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Sure, a cotton blanket is a decent picnic ground cover—until it gets wet. That’s why we like the Alite Meadow mat for any outing that involves boats or swim trunks. It’s mostly waterproof, looks and feels nicer than a tarp, and features tie-down loops to keep the wind from blowing lunch into the river.

Watershed Goforth Drybag ($100)

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Watershed makes some of the burliest bags around, so it’s no surprise that the U.S. Navy had it design one for soldiers. The beefed-up Goforth drybag is lined with 420-denier ripstop Cordura and can be strapped to your waist or the rigging of a SUP.

Dafin Fins ($65)

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Using rubbers of varying stiffness, designer Andy Cochran formed these exceptionally powerful and lightweight Dafin fins to be rigid and flexible in exactly the right spots. No surprise they’re the official swim fin of the U.S. Lifesaving Association.

Hydro Flask Growler ($50)

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Sunshine and fresh air create a natural thirst for craft beer. They’re also beer’s worst enemies. Thankfully, we discovered the Hydro Flask growler, made from double-walled, vacuum-sealed stainless steel. We were able to fill the 64-ounce vessel the night before a rafting trip and still enjoy pints of cold, hoppy beer at the end of a hot day.

Surf Grass Mat ($40)

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Peeling off your wetsuit while standing on asphalt or gravel is one 
of the worst things you can do for its longevity. We’ve been known to strip down inside plastic tubs, but the purpose-made Surf Grass mat offers 
a tidier experience. The inch-thick synthetic turf is also good for getting sand off your feet.

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Ciclotte Exercise Bike

Yes, this luxury exercise bike looks more like something that should be in the 2012 sci-fi thriller Prometheus (where it actually appeared), than in your living room. But the one-wheeled, unicycle-like trainer is a functional—and stylish—addition to your indoor gym.  

The carbon-fiber stationary bike, designed by Italian company Ciclotte, is a high-tech, style-savvy trainer. Features include: a proprietary dual satellite epicycloid transmission to maximize resistance; a touch-screen display, which lets you choose between 12 program settings; an adjustable saddle; and a minimalist design meant to mimic your position on a road bike.  

According to the company, it’s about as close as you can get to actually riding on the road. And hey, it looks cooler than most high-end road bikes out there. It’s also got a price tag to match.   

$12,000, ciclotte.com

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The 5 Best Hammocks for Summer

Buying new gear is a commitment, both financially and emotionally. Kind of like dating. Our idea of the perfect date? Hanging in the trees with a cold brew and shaky cell service. But that’s the easy part. Deciding what to hang in is a bit more challenging.

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We took these five camping hammocks into the forest above Santa Fe to watch the first wildfire of the season burn on the horizon (it was very romantic). Now that we’re back on terra firma, we can give a detailed roundup of our favorite nests. Need a summer fling? Here you go. 

Byer Easy Traveller ($50)

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The Easy Traveller is the hammock equivalent of a no-pressure first date. It’s also easy on the wallet. The parachute nylon fabric feels flimsy at first, but it proved durable when it scraped against trees during setup. And it’s plenty supportive when holding weight. The cutouts near the built-in hanging mechanism provide ample room to move around. It’s big enough for two, but just barely, so get cozy.

Attaching it between two trees was simple and only required looping the rope around the trunk and through a metal adjuster—no knot-tying needed. The light-colored body got dirty quickly, but the material is easy to wipe clean. We liked that everything needed to use the Easy Traveller was included, and it all packed into a small sack that you can toss into a backpack.

$50, ByerOfMaine.com

ENO DoubleNest ($70)

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The DoubleNest is for lovers or those who just want extra space to lounge. Our tester took this one climbing at a local crag and found it light enough to haul up the wall and unobtrusive when hanging off a harness. Setup is easy enough while suspended on a rock face or when assembling it between two trees. Like the Roo (below), loop the webbing ($29, not included) around a tree trunk and hook the carabiners through the slots. 

Bug nets and rainflies are available to customize this nylon nest and protect you from the elements. Pro tip: The supplied carabiners “aren’t burly enough to catch a whipper.” It’s a good idea to swap them out for hardware that’s up for the task before taking this one climbing. 

$70, EaglesNestOutfittersInc.com

Kammok Roo ($100)

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The Roo is a great all-around hammock with some awesome upgrade options. You can buy the Dragonfly mosquito net, which encompasses the entire hammock while still affording plenty of room to sit up. Then there’s the weather shield, featuring Kammok’s own sun-, snow-, and rain-proof fabric.

Nice touch: The Roo was the easiest nest to set up. All it required was swinging the straps ($29) around a tree and snapping the carabiners through one of the loops. The ripstop nylon is tough, and the hammock is spacious enough for two people (if you’re ready for that, of course).

$100, Kammok.com

Hennessy Deep Jungle Hammock ($220)

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Looking to get a little wild? Check out the Deep Jungle, suited for the “buggiest jungles on the planet.” The mosquito-proof ripstop fabric is durable and lightweight and has a built-in mesh zipper over the top for 360-degree protection and breathability.

Slide in the included insulation pad for chilly nights, or pitch the detachable rainfly for stormy ones. The Deep Jungle is best suited for solo pursuits, so look to the Safari Deluxe model for suspended camping with a pal.

$220, HennessyHammock.com

Clark NX-250 Hammock ($429)

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If you’re in it for the long haul, the NX-250 is the hammock for you. At $429, it’s not cheap, and it took more effort than the others to hang (though our ineptitude could be to blame), but once it was up, it was worth it. A pole system on either end of the hammock creates a roomy nylon cocoon and built-in ways to customize: Lie in it like a basic hammock, zip the mesh layer shut to keep bugs at bay (the fabric is mosquito resistant), or close the waterproof layer to stay dry. (You can put up the rainfly in severe weather.) Plenty of pockets will keep beer and other necessities at hand.

The NX-250 is more like a hanging tent (hence the price) than a hammock. It can also be used in cold weather with an insulated liner (not included). Want to take it to the next level with a significant other? Clark’s Camo Vertex has room for two.

$429, JungleHammock.com

Honorable Mentions:

The Disco Hammock ($108, ENO and Betabrand)

For the couple who like to keep it funky, the Disco hammock merges Betabrand’s “disconium” fabric with ENO’s DoubleNest design. We think its super-reflective outer could be good for keeping unwanted wildlife away, though it will likely attract other partygoers. The more the merrier, right? 

Byer Traveller Lite ($24, ByerOfMaine.com)

For loungers looking for cheap thrills, the Traveller Lite is the younger sibling of the Easy Traveller and a simple option for first-timers and minimalists.

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