Fuglsang wins thrilling stage 6 at Criterium du Dauphine

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LA MOTTE-SERVOLEX, France — Danish cyclist Jakob Fuglsang won the first mountain stage of the Criterium du Dauphine race in a thrilling finish on Friday, while Australian Richie Porte took the overall lead ahead of archrival Chris Froome with two stages remaining.

Stage six was a 147.5-kilometer (91.5-mile) slog from Le Parc des Oiseaux Villars-les-Dombes. It featured a grueling climb up Mont du Chat near the end, followed by a downhill finish to La Motte-Servolex.

Fuglsang attacked first heading into the last kilometer, but was caught by Porte, Froome and Italian Fabio Aru — who is Fuglsang’s Astana teammate.

In a pulsating charge to the line, Fuglsang held them off for a notable victory given the caliber of the opposition.

“It’s amazing to find yourself in front alongside two favorites for the Tour de France,” the 32-year-old Fuglsang said. “It’s great to win here for the first time.”

Porte finished second, with Froome third ahead of Aru.

“I’d be lying if I said I’m happy with third place. I battled hard for the stage win,” Froome said. “I worked a bit too hard in the last kilometer to chase down Fuglsang, and I started my sprint from way too far out.”

All four got the same time of 3 hours, 41 minutes, 48 seconds.

Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde was dropped on the big climb and finished fifth, 50 seconds behind.

The 32-year-old Porte is 39 seconds ahead of three-time champion Chris Froome — his former right-hand man at Team SKY — and 1:15 clear of Fuglsang in the standings. Despite losing time, Valverde is dangerously poised at 1:20 back in fourth.

Overnight leader Thomas De Gendt of Belgium paid for his lack of climbing ability and dropped down to 30th place, more than eight minutes behind.

Froome, who is the same age as Porte, is looking to win the race for the third straight year and fourth time overall. His first win here came in 2013, the year he went on to win the first of his three Tour titles. He also won the Tour in 2015 and ’16, mirroring his results at the Criterium.

Froome and Porte will battle it out again in the mountains on Saturday, on a famed climb they both know very well.

Stage seven, starting from Aoste, is over 168 kilometers (104 miles) and ends with an ascent of Alpe d’Huez — a climb with huge status on the Tour.

Sunday’s eighth and final stage is another fearsome mountain trek, with three big climbs and ending with an ascent of Plateau de Solaison.

Whoever comes out on top by Sunday will be confident of victory at the Tour, which begins on July 1.

“I’m pretty happy to be at the top with Richie, he’s in unbelievable form. He’s the best climber at the moment,” Froome said. “The Tour de France isn’t too far away now. I still have a bit of work to do, but I’m on the right track.”

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.”