Crafty teamwork helps Trentin win longest Giro stage

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PINEROLO, Italy — Matteo Trentin used a late counterattack and some crafty teamwork to win the longest stage of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday, while Steven Kruijswijk held on to a comfortable overall lead with only two challenging legs to go.

Cannondale’s Moreno Moser and Trentin’s Etixx Quick-Step teammate Gianluca Brambilla were in the lead approaching the finish line when Trentin bridged the gap from a chasing group. Brambilla was told by radio that Trentin was coming while Moser wasn’t aware, allowing Trentin to burst past and claim his third victory in a Grand Tour.

“It was a win built with teamwork,” said Trentin, who also won two stages in the Tour de France, in 2013 and 2014, plus the Paris-Tours single-day classic last year. “I was sure that sooner or later a stage for me would come.”

Moser finished second and Brambilla crossed third, both with the same time as Trentin — nearly 5 1/2 hours. All three Italians were part of an early breakaway.

The main pack with Kruijswijk and the other leaders finished more than 13 minutes behind in the 18th stage, a 244-kilometer (152-mile) leg from Muggio to Pinerolo.

The route started out flat but concluded with some steep hills and a dangerous descent before flattening out again shortly before the finish.

With his open jersey revealing his bare chest, Trentin had time to celebrate as he coasted over the line.

“I tried to play it cool and keep Moser a little bit tired to keep him in the front,” Brambilla said. “I saw a blue jersey coming around so I stopped helping Moser, I just stayed in the wheel and we managed to get the victory. I’m really happy for Matteo.”

It was the fourth victory for the Etixx team after Marcel Kittel won the opening two sprints and Brambilla took Stage 8. Kittel and Brambilla also wore the overall leader’s pink jersey briefly.

Kruijswijk leads Esteban Chaves by 3 minutes, with Alejandro Valverde 3:23 behind in third.

There are two challenging mountain stages Friday and Saturday before the 99th edition of the race ends in Turin on Sunday.

Stage 19 Friday features the Colle dell’Agnello pass, the highest point of the race at an altitude of 2,744 meters (9,000 feet). Organizers cleared meters (yards) of snow off the pass earlier this week.

“I’m getting closer every day to winning the Giro,” Kruijswijk said. “Tomorrow it looks like a good stage for me. I like long climbs. Maybe I can do something. After finishing second three times, I’d like a stage win as well but firstly I’ll defend the Maglia Rosa (pink jersey).”

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.