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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.

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.