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Pierre Rolland wins Stage 17, Dumoulin keeps Giro lead

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CANAZEI, Italy — Pierre Rolland launched a late solo attack to win the 17th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Wednesday, and Tom Dumoulin’s overall lead remained unchanged.

Rolland, a Frenchman who rides for the Cannondale-Drapac team, accelerated from a large group of breakaway riders with about five kilometers (three miles) to go in the 219-kilometer (136-mile) leg from Tirano to Canazei, which featured three categorized climbs.

Rolland had been part of the breakaway from the start of the stage, which included climbs over the Aprica and Tonale passes. His decisive breakaway came in the Val di Fassa.

“At the end it was a question of courage,” Rolland said. “I caught the right moment. It’s a huge relief.”

It was Rolland’s first career win in the Giro, having won two stages in the Tour de France in 2011 and 2012. He hadn’t posted a win since taking overall victory in the Castilla and Leon tour at the start of 2015.

“I’ve waited for this moment for such a long time,” Rolland said. “In 2015 I finished second in a Tour de France stage, and last year was just a year to forget for me. I crashed twice in the Tour. It’s been a long wait.”

Rolland credited his form to his work over the winter with Cannondale general manager Jonathan Vaughters, a former teammate of Lance Armstrong.

“My winter was so so hard, and now I’ve won because of my work,” he said.

Rui Costa, the 2013 world champion, won a sprint for second, crossing 24 seconds behind Rolland.

Basque rider Gorka Izaguirre crossed third.

The main pack including Dumoulin and all of the other contenders finished nearly eight minutes behind.

Dumoulin remained 31 seconds ahead of 2014 champion Nairo Quintana, with two-time champion Vincenzo Nibali third, 1:12 behind.

Dumoulin struggled with stomach problems a day earlier during the race’s toughest stage, losing most of his lead due to a nature break. He was untroubled Wednesday, which was welcome ahead of another grueling leg Thursday across the Dolomites Range.

However, Dumoulin’s Team Sunweb had to pull at the front to make sure nobody in the breakaway gained too much time on him.

“We were never worried,” Dumoulin said. “We just had to chase harder than we expected. I knew other teams would stress for their jerseys, and come to help. But they waited very long to pull. It was their decision… My boys did an amazing job and my jersey is safe.”

Stage 18 is a 137-kilometer (85-mile) leg from Moeana to Ortisei in the Val Gardena that features four categorized climbs, including an uphill finish.

“I expect Vincenzo and Nairo to make it very hard for me tomorrow,” Dumoulin said.

The 100th Giro ends in Milan on Sunday with an individual time trial.

Giro d’Italia to open 2018 race in Israel

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JERUSALEM — The Giro d’Italia cycling race will open next year’s event in Israel, marking the first time any leg of the sport’s Grand Tours will take place outside of Europe.

Race organizers say details of the exact route of the three-day leg in Israel will be announced next week. Italian and Israeli ministers will make the announcement, along with Spanish great Alberto Contador.

More than 175 of the world’s best cyclists will arrive in Israel for the race, one of cycling’s top three stage races along with the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta. For the first time in its 101-year history, the Giro will begin outside Europe.

Viewed by hundreds of millions across the globe, this will be the biggest sporting event ever held in Israel.

Froome poised to win his first Spanish Vuelta title

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ALTO DE L’ANGLIRU, Spain (AP) Chris Froome is poised to break his streak of runner-up finishes at the Spanish Vuelta after the Tour de France champion maintained his overall lead on the final competitive stage of the grand tour on Saturday.

Froome increased his advantage over Vincenzo Nibali through the rainy 117.5-kilometer (73-mile) mountainous ride in Stage 20 from Corvera de Asturias to a grueling summit finish at the Alto de l’Angliru.

Under race tradition, the top riders do not challenge each other in the professional final stage.

Dominant at the Tour in recent years, Froome has finished the Vuelta as runner-up on three occasions. He came in behind Juanjo Cobo in 2011, Alberto Contador in 2014, and Nairo Quintana last year.

Barring a mishap or accident on Sunday’s arrival in Madrid, Froome will become only the third rider to complete the Tour-Vuelta double in the same season. Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978) achieved the feat when the Vuelta was still held in the spring before the Tour.

Set to finally claim an elusive Vuelta title, Froome allowed himself a huge smile as he crossed the finish line. The British rider extended his lead of 1 minute, 37 seconds at the start of the day to 2:15 ahead of Nibali, the Italian who won the Vuelta in 2010 and finished second in 2013.

“It’s an absolutely incredible feeling. What a way to end such a massive three weeks of racing, having completed the Tour-Vuelta double,” Froome said. “Thanks to my team, which has been fantastic.”

Contador, who will retire after the race, won Stage 20 with an attack from distance to put a fine finish to his career that has included seven grand tour wins, including three Vueltas.

Contador left his last adversary with five kilometers left, with Spanish fans cheering him on as he powered his way up the brutal last ascent.

Froome and Sky teammate Wout Poels dropped Nibali on the last section. Poels crossed second right in front of Froome, 17 seconds after Contador.

Nibali’s Bahrain-Merida team set the pace up the second of three climbs on the stage in the northern mountains. The move shed all but the hardiest riders from Froome’s group heading up the category-one Alto del Cordal, only for Nibali to fall on the descent on the wet road and needing help from a teammate to make up the lost time. Marc Soler, who was at that point leading the stage, and David de la Cruz also crashed on the same descent.

After losing several minutes on the race’s second stage, Contador dedicated the rest of his final event to attacking whenever possible. The Madrid-born rider didn’t disappoint with another daring attack to claim his second career win at the demanding Alto de l’Angliru in 3 1/2 hours.

It was a brilliant final page of a great but controversial career. The 34-year-old Contador is second only to the great Miguel Indurain in Spanish cycling lore after winning the Tour twice. But he was also shamed when stripped of a third Tour title for doping.

“There cannot be a more beautiful finish than this, winning at Alto de l’Angliru to put an end to my sporting career,” Contador said. “I wanted to go out like this, and there is no better place than here to say goodbye.”

Contador just missed joining Froome, Nibali and Ilnur Zakarin on the podium.

“It was such a tough climb. We did everything we could to catch Alberto, but he was too strong,” Froome said after he embraced Contador, one of his top rivals for years. “Congratulations to him. For him to finish his career like this is beautiful.”