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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.

Alejandro Valverde retakes overall lead of Tour of Catalonia

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TORTOSA, Spain — Alejandro Valverde defeated Chris Froome and Alberto Contador to win the decisive fifth stage of the Tour of Catalonia on Friday and take the overall lead going into the weekend.

Valverde won after dominating the final climb of the 182-kilometer (113-mile) stage from Valls to Tortosa. The Spaniard finished 13 seconds ahead of both Froome and Contador.

Valverde opened a 21-second lead over Froome and a 47-second gap to Contador in the overall standings.

American Tejay van Garderen, the leader going into Friday’s stage, dropped to sixth place overall, 1 minute, 18 seconds behind Valverde.

Froome, the three-time Tour de France winner, had an eventful day. He had a puncture about 20 kilometers (12 miles) into the stage, and was also forced to momentarily stop with about 45 kilometers (28 miles) to go because of a crash in front of him.

Saturday’s sixth stage will see riders travel 189 kilometers (117 miles) from Tortosa to Reus.

The week-long race in northeastern Spain ends Sunday in Barcelona.

Greg Van Avermaet wins E3 Harelbeke after three-man sprint

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HARELBEKE, Belgium — Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet came out on top of a three-man sprint to win the E3 Harelbeke as Belgian riders secured a 1-2-3 finish in the one-day cobbled race on Friday.

Van Avermaet edged former world champion Philippe Gilbert. Oliver Naesen completed the podium.

Tom Boonen broke up the peloton when he attacked on the Taaienberg hill. A small group followed, and the Belgian trio pulled away on the steep cobbled slopes of the Oude Kwaremont, and stayed ahead all the way to the finish.

The Belgians sized each other carefully in the final kilometer. Naesen ignited the sprint 250 meters from the line. He made his move too soon, and Van Avermaet caught him with ease, then resisted Gilbert’s response to claim his first win in the E3.

It was Van Avermaet’s second important win this season following his success in the Het Nieuwsblad in February.

Gilbert, who was runner-up to Yves Lampaert in the Dwars doo Vlaanderen race midweek, looked strong in the finale but maybe chose too big a gear, failing to catch his rival.

“It gives me a lot of confidence for Flanders,” Van Avermaet said, referring to the Tour of Flanders, the region’s big race on April 2.

The race was marred by crashes, and Tony Gallopin of France was forced to withdraw with a suspected left wrist injury. His Lotto Soudal team said he would be taken to hospital for a medical checkup. World champion Peter Sagan was also caught up in a crash 42 kilometers from the finish but appeared uninjured.