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Aru’s Sardinia, Nibali’s Sicily feature in 100th Giro route

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Sardinia for Fabio Aru. Sicily for Vincenzo Nibali.

The 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia will pay homage to the country’s two top riders with a start that will include stages on both of Italy’s largest islands.

Revealed Tuesday in Milan, the May 5-28 race will start with three stages in Sardinia to honor Aru, followed by two legs in Sicily for Nibali.

Aru last year became the first Sardinian to wear the Giro leader’s pink jersey, when he finished second to Alberto Contador, while Nibali, a Sicilian, won in 2013 and 2016.

Aru and Nibali were teammates at Astana the past four years but Nibali recently left to lead the new Bahrain-Merida team, setting up a duel in the Giro.

After crossing the Strait of Messina by boat, the race will climb north through Calabria and Puglia and eventually visit all but four of Italy’s 20 regions.

“To celebrate the 100th edition we have to celebrate all of Italy,” race director Mauro Vegni said.

Next year’s race will also include many of the legendary climbs from the Giro’s history, including a finish at Oropa in the northwest region of Piedmont, where Marco Pantani won in 1999, and two ascents in a single stage of the high-altitude Stelvio Pass, near the Swiss border.

There are two time trials – a 39.2-kilometer (24-mile) route through the Umbrian winemaking region of Sagrantino in Stage 10 and a 28-kilometer (17.4 mile) concluding leg from Monza’s Formula One track to Milan’s cathedral.

With four mountain-top finishes and a total of 67.2 kilometers (42 miles) of time trialing, the route could be more challenging than the recently announced 2017 Tour de France, which has only three mountain-top finishes and 36 kilometers (22 miles) of time trialing

Still, Tour winner Chris Froome, 2014 Giro champion Nairo Quintana and two-time Giro winner Alberto Contador have all indicated they plan to focus on the Tour next year.

But the time trials could attract rising Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin, who is a specialist at racing against the clock.

Here are some aspects of the 2017 race:

VOLCANIC SLOPES:

After a rest day to transfer from Sardinia, Stage 4 on May 9 starts in the coastal town of Cefalu and features the race’s first uphill finish on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna – where Contador won in 2011.

Stage 10 sets up for sprinters with the finish line in Messina, Nibali’s birthplace, having started in Pedara on the slopes of Etna.

“The finish is really tough, and there’s little vegetation so it can be windy,” Nibali said of the Etna stage. “Getting the pink jersey going into my hometown would be great, but let’s take it step by step.”

Organizers had already announced details of the three stages in Sardinia.

The Giro will set off from the port town of Alghero on an undulating 203-kilometer (126-mile) route along the island’s northern coast to Olbia.

Stage two is a hilly 208-kilometer (129-mile) leg from Olbia to Tortoli, which could also end in a sprint, while the final day in Sardinia is a mainly flat 148 kilometers (92 miles) from Tortoli to Cagliari.

IN VINO VERITAS: For the third consecutive year, the Giro will feature a time trial dedicated to one of Italy’s top winemaking regions.

This year it’s Stage 10 from Foligno to Montefalco through the Umbrian vineyards where the bold, red variety Sagrantino is produced.

Nearly 40 kilometers (25 miles) in length, the undulating stage could have a big impact on the overall standings.

Along the same lines, a 2015 stage from Barbaresco to Barolo celebrated Piedmont’s top wines and a rainy leg this year from Radda to Greve in Chianti traversed the heart of the Tuscan red winemaking region.

HEROES AND LEGENDS

Italian cycling icons Gino Bartali, Ercole Baldini, Fausto Coppi, Marco Pantani and others will be remembered with stages in their honor.

Stage 11 runs through the Appenine Mountains after beginning in Pont a Ema, where Bartali was born – directly in front of the museum dedicated to the 1936, `37 and `46 winner.

The next day’s stage starts in Forli, where 1958 champion Baldini was born.

Stages 13 and 14 are dedicated to five-time winner Fausto Coppi. The 13th leg ends in Tortona, where the “Campionissimo” died in 1960 and the next leg starts in Castellania, where Coppi was born in 1919.

Stage 14 concludes with a climb to Oropa, where Pantani posted one of his more memorable victories in 1999.

DECISIVE DOLOMITES

The race will likely be decided in the Dolomites Range in the final week.

Stage 16 figures to be one of the race’s toughest challenges. The stage begins with an ascent of the steep and narrow Mortirolo then the Stelvio is climbed both from the Italian and Swiss sides before a final descent into Bormio. At an altitude of 2,758 meters (9,050 feet), the Stelvio’s peak will represent the race’s highest point – traditionally known as the “Cima Coppi” (Coppi peak).

Stage 18 could be even tougher. While only 137 kilometers (85 miles) long, the race’s showcase stage will take the peloton over four major mountain passes – Pordoi, Valparola, Gardena and Pinei.

The next day features the fourth summit finish at Piancavallo, while the penultimate leg from Pordenone to Asiago includes a difficult climb to Monte Grappa – the scene of fighting in both world wars.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

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.