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Dumoulin keeps Giro lead despite nature break in 16th stage

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BORMIO, Italy — Tom Dumoulin’s overall lead in the Giro d’Italia was drastically reduced in the race’s toughest stage Tuesday after the Dutchman stopped to answer the call of nature at the foot of the last of three major climbs.

Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali of the Bahrain-Merida team won the 16th leg, which crossed the Mortirolo and Stelvio passes.

Just before the unprecedented ascent to the Umbrail pass in Switzerland, Dumoulin stopped at the side of the road, stripped off his pink jersey and hopped down into a ditch to take care of business. By the time Dumoulin got back on his bike, the Team Sunweb rider had already dropped far behind his rivals.

“I just had some problems,” Dumoulin said. “I started to feel it in the downhill of the Stelvio and I had to stop. Back on the bike I decided to fight and draw conclusions after the finish. I’m still in the maglia rosa (leader’s pink jersey) but I’m above all very disappointed.”

Becoming the first Italian rider to win a stage in this year’s race, Nibali edged Mikel Landa of Team Sky in a two-man sprint, with 2014 champion Nairo Quintana crossing third, 12 seconds behind.

Dumoulin finished more than two minutes back but maintained a 31 second lead over Quintana, while Nibali moved up from fourth to third overall, 1:12 behind.

Thibaut Pinot dropped from third to fourth and Ilnur Zakarin remained fifth.

Dumoulin entered the stage 2:41 ahead of Quintana. He took the lead by dominating an individual time trial in Stage 10 and then won Stage 14, which finished with a serious climb to Oropa.

While Dumoulin ordered his team to slow down and wait when Quintana fell in the previous stage, Nibali and Quintana didn’t wait for him this time.

“I don’t know. It’s difficult to say,” Dumoulin said when asked if his rivals should have waited. “It was a racing situation and we were going full gas.”

While Dumoulin is considered the sport’s faster rider in time trials, he still hasn’t proven himself as an elite climber. His best Grand Tour finish was sixth in the 2015 Spanish Vuelta, a race he led until he cracked two stages from the end.

“This is not something I was hoping for and I also don’t think it shows my level at the moment,” Dumoulin said. “I had good legs. But there’s nothing to do about it. I’m disappointed about myself that I lost two minutes while not having bad legs or anything but just having a problem.”

The 222-kilometer (138-mile) route from Rovetta to Bormio first ascended the narrow Mortirolo then went over the Stelvio before concluding with the Umbrail pass on the Swiss side of the Stelvio.

Part of an early breakaway, Landa of Team Sky was first over the snow-covered Stelvio, which marked the three-week race’s highest point at an altitude of 2,758 meters (9,049 feet).

After a technical descent featuring nearly 50 hairpin turns, there was hardly any flat ground before the final climb up the Umbrail, which lasted 13 kilometers (eight miles) at a gradient between 9 and 12 percent. Then it was another long, high-speed descent of 19 kilometers (12 miles) into Bormio, an Alpine village known for its thermal baths and World Cup skiing races.

Nibali attacked up the Umbrail and then showed off his downhill skills on the descent to catch Landa and take his 13th individual stage win at a Grand Tour after a ride of nearly 6 1/2 hours.

“It’s the victory of a complete rider. I had to be consistent from start to finish in a long and difficult stage,” Nibali said. “At the end I had to be an aggressive climber, a good downhill rider and a sprinter.”

At the start of the stage, a moment of silence was observed for the victims of the suicide attack at an Ariana Grande show in Manchester, England, plus the death of ex-MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden, who was hit by a car while training on his bicycle.

Stage 17 on Wednesday is a 219-kilometer (136-mile) leg from Tirano to Canazei featuring three categorized climbs, followed by an even tougher stage through the Dolomites on Thursday.

The 100th Giro ends Sunday with an individual time trial in Milan that should favor Dumoulin.

“There are more difficult stages to come but Dumoulin also has a time trial to his advantage in Milan,” Nibali said.

After Giro crash, Thomas back to support Froome in Tour

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PARIS (AP) Chris Froome will have support rider Geraint Thomas alongside him again as he pursues a fourth Tour de France title in five years.

Thomas opened the year aiming for victory in the Giro d’Italia but was forced to abandon that race because of injuries sustained in a crash caused by a police motorbike.

Thomas recently returned in the Route du Sud and gives Team Sky a second overall option if Froome struggles.

Also named to Sky’s squad Thursday were: Sergio Henao, Vasil Kiryienka, Christian Knees, Michal Kwiatkowski, Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve and Luke Rowe.

Landa was injured in the same Giro crash as Thomas but stayed in the race, winning the 19th stage and posting three more podium finishes to claim the mountains classification.

Henao and Landa should also escort Froome in the mountains.

Froome won the Tour in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

“Aiming for that fourth victory has given me a lot of motivation,” Froome said. “To me, each Tour tells a different story. Every Tour is a different battle in terms of getting that yellow jersey and then trying to hold on to it.”

Froome preceded each of his Tour victories by winning the Criterium du Dauphine but he finished only fourth in the warm-up race this year – with former Sky teammate Richie Porte taking victory. But the Kenyan-born British rider believes he’s still the man to beat.

“We’re ready as a team and I can’t wait for the Tour to start now. Honestly, I just love it. It’s a feeling that you don’t get from any other race,” Froome said.

Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain share the record with five Tour wins each – after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven victories for doping.

“To win the Tour once is a huge achievement, but to win it a fourth time would be remarkable,” Sky team principal Dave Brailsford said. “We’ve selected a strong and experienced lineup who will support (Froome), and we’ll be looking to use the strength of the team to our advantage.”

The Tour begins July 1 in Duesseldorf and concludes in Paris three weeks later.

Cavendish back racing with Tour de France still possible

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LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) Mark Cavendish returned to cycling for the first time since March on Thursday at the Tour of Slovenia, and the sprint star remains hopeful he can start the Tour de France next month.

Cavendish had not raced since Milano-Sanremo in March. He came down with mononucleosis caused by the Epstein-Barr virus in April, forcing him to the sideline during his typical Tour prep.

The 32-year-old British cyclist has 30 stage wins in France, four shy of Eddy Merckx’s record.

This year’s Tour begins with a short time trial July 1 in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Cavendish said he’s “fit as I can be after four weeks of training,” but his health will be closely monitored during the four-day Tour of Slovenia. Sam Bennett won Thursday’s opening stage in a sprint.