Ulissi wins 4th Giro stage; Dumoulin reclaims overall lead

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PRAIA A MARE, Italy — Italian rider Diego Ulissi won the fourth stage of the Giro d’Italia on Tuesday by attacking on a climb shortly before the finish, while Tom Dumoulin crossed second to reclaim the overall lead.

Returning to Italy after three stages in the Netherlands, Ulissi put an Italian stamp on the race after the Dutchman Dumoulin took the opening time trial and Marcel Kittel of Germany won the first two sprints.

Riding for the Lampre team, Ulissi stood up out of his saddle and surged ahead on the steepest section — at a gradient of 18 percent — of the short Fortino climb with 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to go. He then maintained his lead on the descent to the finish along the Calabrian seaside.

Completing the hilly 200-kilometer (124-mile) route from Catanzaro to Praia a Mare in nearly five hours, Ulissi finished five seconds ahead of Dumoulin, who edged fellow Dutch rider Steven Kruijswijk in a sprint.

It’s the fifth Giro stage win of Ulissi’s career and his 20th victory overall.

“My victory comes after enormous team work,” Ulissi said. “Valerio Conti managed to create the small group and I rode away knowing that, on the final descent, the peloton of chasers would go even faster than me. I gave it everything I had. It’s a huge emotion”.

Dumoulin, of Team Giant-Alpecin, holds a 20-second lead over Bob Jungels, with Ulissi third overall, also 20 seconds behind.

“It’s great to get the Maglia Rosa back,” Dumoulin said, of the race leader’s pink jersey. “That’s what we were working for today. We sent Georg Preidler into the last breakaway. It would have been perfect if he had taken the race lead but it wasn’t to be. At the last gasp, I tried for the stage win but Ulissi was just too strong.”

Pre-race favorite Vincenzo Nibali, the 2013 Giro champion and 2014 Tour de France winner, moved up to sixth, 26 seconds back. Alejandro Valverde, another favorite, is five seconds further behind in seventh.

Previous leader Kittel struggled on several climbs and dropped more than eight minutes behind.

Stage 5 on Wednesday is another hilly 233-kilometer (145-mile) leg from Praia to Benevento.

The 99th edition of the race ends May 29 in Turin.

2019 Tour will honor 1st victory of 5-time champion Merckx

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BRUSSELS (AP) The start of the 2019 Tour de France will be all about honoring Eddy Merckx in his hometown of Brussels.

Merckx, known as “The Cannibal” for his ferocious taste for victory, won the first of his five Tours in 1969. Half a century later, the Belgian great still sees it as one of the major accomplishments for a cyclist generally considered to be the greatest ever.

“I wore the yellow jersey 96 times. It is the best memory of my career. It still gives me goosebumps,” Merckx said during Tuesday’s presentation of the Grand Depart – the opening weekend of the three-week Tour.

Merckx also won a record 34 Tour stages and is among four riders who won the Tour a record five times. French riders Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, and Spanish great Miguel Indurain are the others.

Tour organizers said it will be the second time the race will set off from the Belgian capital, which hosted the race’s Grand Depart in 1958.

The 2019 race will also mark 100 years since the race leader’s yellow jersey was created.

When it comes to the first two stages on July 6-7, the iconic Wall of Geraardsbergen climb should take center stage.

The 192-kilometer (119-mile) first stage of the Tour will have the Wall, for decades the toughest climb in the Ronde of Flanders classic. The Wall will come early but the stage, which makes a big loop south of Brussels, is still set up for a sprint finish close to the royal palace.

It will also have its stretch of famed Flemish cobblestones and will pass through the hometown of soccer player Eden Hazard.

The second stage will be a 28-kilometer team time trial through the Belgian capital along its wide-open boulevards. The riders will also pass by St. Pieters-Woluwe in suburban Brussels, where Merckx lived as a child and where he got to pull on his first yellow jersey.

From Brussels, it is an easy trek south into nearby France for the rest of the race.

Peter Sagan wins prelude to Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Three-time world road racing champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia made an outstanding start to the 2018 cycling season Sunday when he won the People’s Choice Classic, a prelude to the first World Tour event of the season, the Tour Down Under.

Sagan beat star sprinters Andre Greipel of Germany and Caleb Ewan of Australia in a bunch sprint to win the 50.6 kilometer (31.4 mile) race over 22 laps of a street course in central Adelaide.

The win means Sagan will wear the tour leader’s ocher jersey in the first stage of the six stage Tour Down Under on Tuesday. Sunday’s race does not count toward general classification.

Ewan won the race in each of the past two years and Greipel is the only three-time winner. The 132-strong field that lined up for the race Sunday included seven former winners.