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.”

Froome finishes 10th in Ruta del Sol, Wellens wins

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MADRID (AP) Chris Froome finished Spain’s Ruta del Sol race in 10th place behind winner Tim Wellens on Sunday.

The five-stage race in southern Spain was Froome’s first event since the four-time Tour de France winner was found to have failed a doping test at last year’s Spanish Vuelta.

Froome, who denies any wrongdoing, has been ordered to explain to the International Cycling Union why a urine sample he provided at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol at twice the permitted level.

Wellens, a Belgian rider for Lotto-Soudal, defended his lead over the final day’s time trial.

Wout Poels, of Froome’s Sky Team, was second at eight seconds behind.

Froome, who won the event in 2015, finished 1 minute, 57 seconds behind. He started the time trial on the final day in 14th after a puncture toward the end of Saturday’s fourth stage.

Froome returns to racing despite doping investigation

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MALAGA, Spain (AP) Four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome is returning to racing on Wednesday despite being under investigation by cycling’s world governing body for failing a doping test.

Froome is participating in the five-day Ruta del Sol in southern Spain, an event he won in 2015.

“I know I have done nothing wrong, that’s my starting point,” Froome said. “There is a process in place for me to be up to demonstrate that, and that’s obviously what I intend to do.”

Froome has been ordered to explain to the International Cycling Union why a urine sample he provided at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol at twice the permitted level.

He said he has received a lot of support from other riders so far, and that he is trying to solve the issue as fast as possible.

“I do believe that when all the facts are out there I think people will see it from my point of view,” Froome said.

If found guilty of doping, the British rider could lose his Vuelta title and be suspended for a long period.