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Sam Bennett’s exit from Tour de France sparks tension in his team

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The news that Sam Bennett will miss this year’s Tour de France through injury came as a big disappointment for Irish cycling fans, and indeed supporters around the world, but it is also a big blow to Bennett himself. The Carrick-on-Suir rider was the most notable absentee from the Tour line-up announced by his Deceuninck-QuickStep team on Monday, with Bennett explaining that a knee problem prevented him from taking part.

His disappointment at missing the Tour will be amplified by his strong showing last year, the seven victories he clocked up so far in 2021 and by the fact that he is leaving his current squad at the end of the season. While he has already been linked to a possible move back to his former team Bora-Hansgrohe and to Ineos Grenadiers, more Tour success this year would have further enhanced his earning potential.

Unless a contract for next season has already been finalised, missing the Tour will likely impact the number of offers he receives from other teams. He won two stages plus the green jersey in last year’s race and, without injury, would have started the Tour this Saturday as arguably the top favourite for the sprints.

He is instead travelling to Belgium for a full assessment of his injury.

“Sometimes life throws you a curveball,” he said in a statement. “A couple of weeks ago in training I had a really minor injury that I simply couldn’t heal in time to be at my best for this year’s Tour de France. Myself and the team believed I would be ready in time but it became clear in the last few days that I wouldn’t be at the level I always strive to be at to win bunch sprints at the biggest race in the world.

‘Keep fighting’

“This season has so much more to offer me so I’m going to keep fighting and, most importantly, race without any injury risk, in the coming weeks and months.

“Needless to say, I’m very disappointed to not be able to defend my green jersey at this year’s Tour de France.”

It is understood that Bennett’s gears slipped while training and he banged his knee off his handlebars. Coincidentally, Stephen Roche suffered the same mishap during the 1989 Tour de France and was forced to withdraw from the race as a result.

Bennett’s frustration will be exacerbated by some tactless criticism of him from the Deceuninck-QuickStep team manager Patrick Lefevere on Monday. Speaking to the Belgian media outlet Sporza, Lefevere questioned the Irish rider’s mindset. “When Bennett called that he was injured and that he needed care and rest, we already felt the mood that he was not going to be ready for the Tour,” he said.

“Three days before the Tour of Belgium, he bumped his knee against his handlebars. He didn’t tell us anything about that. When he arrived [to the race], we sent him home again. Then it was a yes-no game: to train or not to train?

“I cannot prove that he does not have knee pain, but I am starting to think more and more that it is more fear of failure than just pain.”

High expectations

Given Bennett’s known own high expectations of himself, and considering the success of last year’s Tour plus his seven wins thus far this season, the public slating was questioned by some on Monday. Lefevere is an outspoken character, and is known to be frustrated that he cannot match the salary offers made to Bennett by other teams for next year.

It is not yet clear how long Bennett will be out of competition. The hilly nature of the Tokyo 2020 road race course had already made his selection for the Olympics a long shot. However, depending on the speed of his recovery from injury, he could potentially target stage victories in the Vuelta a España, which begins on Saturday August 14th.

Bennett won stage four of the race last year, adding to two stage victories there in 2019.

Thus far, Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) is the only Irish rider confirmed for the Tour. He won a stage in last month’s Giro d’Italia and finished a solid 10th overall. His first cousin Nicolas Roche is a possible starter, but the Team DSM line-up is yet to be announced.

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Facebook admits high-profile users are treated differently

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Facebook’s oversight board said the social media company hadn’t been “fully forthcoming” about internal rules that allowed some high-profile users to be exempt from content restrictions and said it will make recommendations on how to change the system.

In the first of its quarterly transparency reports published Thursday, the board said that on some occasions, Facebook “failed to provide relevant information to the board,” and in other instances the information it did provide was incomplete.

For example, when Facebook referred the case involving former US president Donald Trump to the board, it didn’t mention its internal “cross-check system” that allowed for a different set of rules for high-profile users.

Facebook only mentioned cross-check, or XCheck, to the board when asked whether Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.

The cross-check system was disclosed in recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal, based in part on documents from a whistle-blower.

The journal described how the cross-check system, originally intended to be a quality-control measure for a select few high-profile users and designed to avoid public relations backlash over famous people who mistakenly have their posts taken down, had ballooned to include millions of accounts.

The oversight board said it will undertake a review of the cross-check system and make suggestions on how to improve it.

As part of the process, Facebook has agreed to share with the board relevant documents about the cross-check system as reported in the Wall Street Journal. – Bloomberg

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Green mortgages may leave owners of older homes unable to sell

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Estate agents warn owners of older homes, rural houses and listed properties could struggle to sell under green mortgage plans

  • Boris Johnson has unveiled his plans for turning Britain green by 2050 
  • The plans include proposals on how to make the housing stock greener 
  • The plans would see lenders disclose the energy performance of properties










Homeowners living in older, rural and even listed properties risk being unable to sell if strict green finance targets are introduced, estate agents have warned.

The warning comes after Boris Johnson unveiled his plan for turning Britain green by 2050 this week, with mortgage lenders having targets for the energy performance of properties in their portfolio.

A body that represents estate agents across Britain claimed that the property market could be distorted as a result of the measures and called for Britain’s historic housing stock to be taken into account.

Boris Johnson revealed proposals on how to make the housing stock greener this week

Boris Johnson revealed proposals on how to make the housing stock greener this week

Timothy Douglas, of Propertymark, said: ‘Incentivising green improvements to properties via lending creates risks of trapping homeowners with older properties, those who live in rural areas, listed buildings or conservation areas, making their homes difficult to sell and therefore reducing the value.’

Propertymark said that those living in older properties could be left with homes that they could not sell if buyers were unable to secure finance on them due to their lower energy efficiencies.

The effect would be likely to be felt more by less wealthy owners, as deep-pocketed buyers would be more able to overlook mortgage restrictions and high-end older homes would continue to be desirable.

Mr Douglas said: ‘The use of targets could distort the market and sway lenders towards preferential, newer homes in order to improve the rating of their portfolio.

‘Stopping a large portion of housing stock from being able to enter the market could cause havoc for home buying and selling as well as the wider economy.’ 

He added that improving the energy efficiency of homes should be reliant on consumer choice and not something enforced by mortgage lenders, with all the knock-on effects this could entail.

He said: ‘We would be concerned if lenders raise rates and limit products because fundamentally, improving the energy performance of a property is reliant on consumer choice and it is not the core business of mortgage lenders.’

Mark Harris, of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: ‘The green agenda is not new but there is increasing impetus behind it. There are more green mortgage products aimed at those purchasing more energy-efficient properties – A-C rated, and not just from specialist lenders but the high street banks too.

‘However, there is a real danger that green initiatives could create the next round of mortgage prisoners if homeowners are trapped in older homes that can’t be improved, so they can’t move because they can’t sell them on.

‘Without changes or improvements, lenders may restrict lending to lower loan-to-values, higher pricing, or not lend at all. This could penalise those who are unable to adapt to or adopt new efficient technologies economically.’

A UK Finance spokesperson said: ‘Greening our housing stock is vital if we are to meet our climate change obligations and banks and finance providers are committed to helping achieve this goal and making sure consumers are not left behind.’

Ways to boost energy efficiency  

Propertymark recommends three measures to improve the energy efficiency of homes without negatively impacting the housing market.

1. Improvements linked to an EPC

These include linking a plan for energy efficiency improvements to the recommendations on a property’s Energy Performance Certificate.

It could demonstrate the ‘most suitable route’ to a warmer home, regulatory compliance and zero carbon, according to Propertymark.

2. Tax breaks

It also recommends using tax breaks to incentivise homeowners to finance energy efficiency improvements.

For example, these could include making energy improvements exempt from VAT or offering lower rates of council tax for homes that have been made more energy efficient.

3. Adjustable tax rates

An adjustable rate of property tax that is tied to energy performance is also being recommended by Propertymark.

This could be done in two ways, it suggested. First, by applying the adjustment as a reduction on more energy-efficient properties. And second by offering rebates to buyers if energy efficiency improvements are made to less efficient properties within a certain time period after purchase.

Propertymark said that by linking energy performance with property taxes, this could help introduce increased saleability for more energy-efficient properties. In addition, it suggested that improvements would become standard for homeowners seeking costs and improve the desirability of their homes.

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Johnson rules out face masks as UK’s daily Covid cases rise above 50,000

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Daily coronavirus cases in Britain have risen above 50,000 for the first time since July, but Boris Johnson said he will not bring back compulsory face coverings or introduce vaccine passports.

Speaking in Northern Ireland, the prime minister said his government was holding firm to its policy of no legal restrictions introduced in July, but was watching the numbers carefully.

“The numbers of infections are high but we are within the parameters of what the predictions were,” he said. “We are sticking with our plan.”

Mr Johnson acknowledged the “patchiness” of Britain’s vaccination programme, urging people to come forward for their booster jabs as soon as they are invited to do so. But Labour leader Keir Starmer said the government should beef up the programme, ensure that more children were vaccinated and aim to deliver half a million jabs a day.

“The government said that the vaccine would be the security wall against the virus and now the government is letting that wall crumble,” he said.

“We’ve seen those that most need it not able to get the jab they need. Only, I think, 17 per cent of children have got the vaccine. And the booster programme has slowed down so much that at this rate we’re not going to complete it until spring of next year. So the government needs to change these, it needs to get a grip. I think it needs to drive those numbers up to at least 500,000 vaccines a day.”

Vaccine passports

The British Medical Association (BMA) accused the government of “wilful negligence” in not bringing back some restrictions, and of failing to learn the lessons of a parliamentary report last week about its handling of the pandemic. The association’s chairman, Chaand Nagpaul, said doctors could say categorically that it was time to bring back compulsory face masks and to introduce vaccine passports.

“By the health secretary’s own admission we could soon see 100,000 cases a day, and we now have the same number of weekly Covid deaths as we had during March, when the country was in lockdown,” he said.

“It is, therefore, incredibly concerning that he is not willing to take immediate action to save lives and protect the NHS. ”

Health secretary Sajid Javid warned this week that some restrictions could be introduced if the public failed to exercise caution and to take up vaccination offers. He acknowledged that Conservative MPs could show an example by wearing masks in the House of Commons, but house leader Jacob Rees-Mogg on Thursday rejected the suggestion.

Crowded spaces

“There is no advice to wear face masks in workplaces. The advice on crowded spaces is with crowded spaces with people that you don’t know. We on this side know each other,” he told the SNP’s Pete Wishart.

“Now, it may be that he doesn’t like mixing with his own side, wants to keep himself in his personal bubble. He may find the other members of the SNP – who I normally find extraordinarily charming…but we on this side have a more convivial fraternal spirit, and for our calling the guidance of her majesty’s government.”

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