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Chaves takes Giro lead as Kruijswijk crashes into snowbank

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RISOUL, France — Steven Kruijswijk crashed into a snowbank on a dangerous descent and Colombian rider Esteban Chaves surprisingly took the overall lead in the Giro d’Italia following a wild 19th stage Friday.

Vincenzo Nibali won his first stage of this year’s race and moved up from fourth to second overall, only 44 seconds behind Chaves, with one more challenging leg to go before the 99th edition of the race ends in Turin on Sunday.

“I won with rage today. It hasn’t been easy to handle everything that has happened over the past few days,” said Nibali, the pre-race favorite who struggled over the past week.

Having begun the stage with a three-minute lead, Kruijswijk dropped to third overall, 1:05 behind Chaves.

“I’m happy to have the Maglia Rosa (pink jersey) and be so close to winning the Giro but there’s another hard stage tomorrow,” Chaves said. “I’m sorry for Steven Kruijswijk. He made a small mistake in the downhill but he defended himself very courageously.”

Shortly after coming over the foggy Colle dell’Agnello pass, the highest point of the race at an altitude of 2,744 meters (9,000 feet), Kruijswijk lost control on a left turn and collided with a big wall of snow. The Dutchman flipped forward in the air and landed hard on his back and left arm, causing some painful scrapes and dirtying his pink jersey.

After putting his hand to his head to check that his helmet was still intact, Kruijswijk went to recover his bike, which needed mechanical assistance from a neutral race official’s car. Then he had to stop again, once his Team Lotto NL-Jumbo car had finally caught up to give him a spare bike to use.

Ilnur Zakarin, the Russian with Katusha who was fifth overall, had a more serious fall on the descent and had to abandon the race with a reported broken left collarbone.

Nibali clocked nearly 4 hours, 20 minutes over the 162-kilometer (101-mile) leg from Pinerolo to Risoul, France.

Mikel Landa, a Spaniard with Sky, finished second, 51 seconds behind, and Chaves was next, 53 seconds back.

Nibali attacked Chaves and dropped the Colombian on the final climb to Risoul, which could give the Italian the impetus to do the same thing Saturday. The 20th stage is a 134-kilometer (83-mile) leg from Guillestre, France, to Sant’Anna di Vinadio that features three first-category climbs and finishes uphill with a third-category ascent.

“I tried to stay with Nibali but he was too strong for me today,” Chaves said.

An aching Kruijswijk crossed nearly five minutes after Nibali.

Alejandro Valverde also struggled, and dropped from third to fourth overall, 1:48 back.

The 26-year-old Chaves is a pure climber who won the race’s “queen” stage, the 14th leg across the Dolomites. The Orica-Greenedge rider also won two stages en route to a fifth-place finish in last year’s Spanish Vuelta. He’s attempting to become the second Colombian to win the Giro after Nairo Quintana in 2014.

Kruijswijk had taken the lead following the 14th stage and appeared to be cruising toward victory.

Attempting to follow Nibali and Chaves, Kruijswijk’s crash occurred with about 50 kilometers (30 miles) to go and he had no teammates around to help him. Nibali, by contrast, was aided on the finishing climb to Risoul by Astana teammate Michele Scarponi, who slowed up to help his captain after going ahead in an early breakaway.

Following Saturday’s final test in the mountains, the race ends Sunday with a flat 163-kilometer (101-mile) leg from Cuneo to Turin.

Little boy goes wild watching dad in Tour de France

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Bauke Mollema wasn’t the only one putting on a show at the Tour de France.

Mollema received plenty of support back home as his son went absolutely crazy watching his “papa” push to victory in Stage 15. As it is with siblings, Mollema’s oldest son, Julian, was forced to share the spot light as Thomas got emotional watching his dad finally earn a coveted stage win.

Amidst the blood, sweat and tears that have made up the 2017 Tour de France, Mollema’s adorable 2-year-old son, Thomas gave the internet something to smile about.

The Tour de France has “always been the most important race for [Mollema]” and his dreams came true when he had an impressive break away to solidify the first stage win of his career.

Clearly, Mollema was not the only one excited for his first victory.

 

Cavendish involved in nasty crash after elbow from Sagan

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VITTEL, France (AP) A nasty crash involving Mark Cavendish marred Tuesday’s fourth stage of the Tour de France, which was won by France’s Arnaud Demare in a chaotic sprint finish.

Replays appeared to show world champion Peter Sagan elbowing Cavendish, who was squeezed against the barriers to his right, out of the way. Cavendish slammed into the barriers and two other riders plowed over the British sprint specialist, a winner of 30 Tour stages.

Sagan, who crossed the line second, was later given a 30-second penalty that relegated him to 115th place on the stage. As a result, he dropped from second place in the overall standings to 15th.

“I get on with Peter well, but I don’t get … if he came across is one thing, but the elbow. I’m not a fan of him putting his elbow in me like that,” Cavendish said.

“A crash is a crash, I’d just like to know about the elbow, really,” Cavendish added. “I’d just like to speak to him about it.”

After the crash, Sagan went over to see how Cavendish was and patted him on the back, while the British rider showed him his wounds.

The Slovak said later he had apologized to Cavendish.

“It’s not nice to crash like that,” Sagan said.

“It’s the sprint. I just didn’t know that Mark is behind me, he’s coming from the right side,” Sagan added. “Mark was coming pretty fast from the back and after I just didn’t have time to react, to go left, and he just came (into) me and after into the fence.”

A medical team quickly ran out to treat Cavendish, jogging into the oncoming stream of riders to reach him.

When Cavendish was finally helped to his feet, his jersey was badly torn and blood was streaking down his side. Cavendish rode in with a teammate after treatment, gingerly holding his right arm close to his body, with his right hand in a bandage.

It’s already been a difficult year for Cavendish, who came down with mononucleosis caused by the Epstein-Barr virus in April.

Demare’s sprint victory ended a long wait for the home fans, with the previous French victory in a bunch sprint at the Tour being won by Jimmy Casper in Stage 1 in Strasbourg in 2006.

“It’s extraordinary, it’s marvelous,” said Demare, the French champion who finished second to Marcel Kittel in the mass sprint that concluded Stage 2.

There was another crash earlier that delayed Tour leader Geraint Thomas, but the Welshman retained the yellow jersey since it happened in the neutral zone near the stage finish.

Thomas leads Sky teammate and three-time champion Chris Froome by 12 seconds, with third-place Michael Matthews of Australia also 12 seconds back. Sagan is now 43 seconds adrift.

Thomas scraped his knee but said it was OK.

“I hit the deck but I’m fine,” Thomas said.

Demare clocked nearly five hours over the largely flat 207.5-kilometer (129-mile) route, which started and finished in two spa towns, Mondorf-les-Bains in Luxembourg and Vittel in France.

“We’ve been working with Arnaud for a long time on sprints,” said Marc Madiot, manager of Demare’s FDJ team. “Winning in the Tour is the best.”

After Sagan’s penalty, Alexander Kristoff moved up to second place in the stage, with Andre Greipel in third.

After starting in Mondorf, the hometown of 2010 Tour winner Andy Schleck, one of the first towns along the route was Schengen, where an agreement was signed in 1985 that enabled passport-free travel in mainland Europe.

Then it was a long, fairly straight slog through fields of grain, passing near the medieval city of Nancy into Vittel, home of the official mineral water supplier for the Tour.

It was the race’s third consecutive stage of more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) and when Guillaume van Keirsbulck, a Belgian with the Wanty team, attacked from the starting gun there was no reaction from the pack.

Van Keirsbulck quickly built a lead of more than seven minutes before being caught with less than 17 kilometers to go.

“A really hard day,” Van Keirsbulck said. “It’s not easy to stay in the front.”

Stage 5 on Wednesday concludes with the first serious climb of the Tour. The 160.5-kilometer (100-mile) leg begins in Vittel and winds its way to La Planche Des Belles Filles with a short but steep finishing ascent that features a leg-breaking 20-percent gradient in the final meters. All of the overall favorites should swing into action.