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Giro director to Froome: Come make ‘history’ in Italy

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ROME — Rain, often snow, and sometimes even mud.

The conditions at the Giro d’Italia are often everything that Chris Froome dislikes most.

Yet if the Kenyan-born, heat-loving Briton enters next year’s race he’ll have the chance to become the first cyclist to win the Tour de France, Spanish Vuelta and Giro in succession.

“He has to have the desire to try and become the first rider to achieve this feat,” Giro director Mauro Vegni said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It would be historical.”

Froome finally won the Vuelta last month to add to his four Tour titles, leaving the Giro as the only Grand Tour he hasn’t claimed.

While no cyclist has ever won all three Grand Tours in the same season, two riders have won three or more consecutive Grand Tours over two seasons.

Eddy Merckx won four straight in 1972 (Giro and Tour) and 1973 (Vuelta and Giro), and Bernard Hinault won three in 1982 (Giro and Tour) and 1983 (Vuelta).

But nobody has achieved the feat since the Vuelta was moved to the end of the season in 1995. And only six riders have won all three Grand Tours in their careers.

“I think he should have the right motivation to come,” Vegni said this week.

Still, it’s unlikely that Froome will want to risk his chances of matching the record of five Tour titles held by Merckx, Hinault, Jacques Anquetil and Miguel Indurain.

After all, nobody has achieved the Giro-Tour double since the late Marco Pantani in 1998.

“If he wins the Giro, who’s stopping him?” Vegni said. “He’s one of the few riders who can really attempt to follow a Giro victory by also taking the Tour. But first he should grab this milestone. There’s plenty of motivation but it needs to be him that judges it worthy of attempting.”

Perhaps making matters easier, the Tour will start a week later next year to avoid conflicting with soccer’s World Cup – which would give Froome six weeks rather than five to recover and refocus after the Giro.

Froome has raced the Giro twice but not since before he became a Grand Tour contender.

He finished 36th in the 2009 Giro and was disqualified from the 2010 edition for holding on to a police motorbike up the feared Mortirolo pass.

The Giro also remains the only Grand Tour that Froome’s dominant Team Sky has never won.

Former Sky leader Bradley Wiggins entered the 2013 Giro as favorite only to struggle with crashes and wet roads before withdrawing midway through the race with a chest infection.

Geraint Thomas, one of Froome’s most loyal support riders, made an attempt at winning his first Grand Tour in this year’s Giro, only to withdraw with an injured knee following a crash caused by a police motorbike that also affected another Sky hopeful, Mikel Landa.

Vegni is going to have make quite a sales pitch to Froome and Sky team principal Dave Brailsford.

“We’re working on it,” Vegni said. “I think we’ll have a chat with (Froome), his physical trainer and his manager before the end of the year.”

Yet Vegni has no intention of paying Froome to come, like previous race director Angelo Zomegnan did with Lance Armstrong in 2009 – when an acknowledged fee of about $1 million convinced the now-disgraced American to compete in his only Giro.

“I don’t think that a rider like Froome or like Armstrong was has the necessity to be `hired,’ if we want to use that term,” Vegni said. “It’s more necessary that they feel it suits them. Riders like them don’t need any extra money. They need more of a plan, a goal, and motivation that gives them the desire to participate.”

Giro organizers recently announced that next year’s race from May 4-27 will begin with three stages in Israel – marking the first time a Grand Tour will be held outside Europe.

The rest of the route through Italy will be presented in late November.

With teams still formulating their plans for next year, Vegni is also unsure whether defending champion Tom Dumoulin or Italian standouts Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru will commit to the Giro.

But the focus is on Froome.

“He creates the most interest,” Vegni said.

Andy Rihs, Swiss owner of cycling, soccer teams, dies at 75

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BERN, Switzerland (AP) Andy Rihs, a Swiss businessman who owned the BMC Racing cycling team and Young Boys soccer club, has died. He was 75.

Rihs died Wednesday in Zurich after “a patient and valiantly endured illness,” the BMC team said Thursday in a statement.

“Our grief is indescribable, but we will carry on his values,” the team said, praising Rihs for his “generosity, his sense of humor, and his infectious laugh.”

Rihs’s death comes with Young Boys close to winning its first Swiss league title in 32 years. Young Boys leads by 11 points with six matches left.

“Andy, thank you for everything. We will miss you,” Young Boys said in a statement.

Rihs’s brother, Hans-Ueli, is also an owner of the club and Stade de Suisse in Bern, known locally as Wankdorf. The stadium staged the 1954 World Cup final.

As BMC owner, Rihs secured a Tour de France title five years after his previous team was involved in a doping scandal. Cadel Evans of Australia wore BMC’s black and red colors to victory in the 2011 Tour.

In 2006, the Rihs-backed Phonak team disbanded after American rider Floyd Landis was stripped of the Tour title.

Cycling’s top riders set for Tour of California next month

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The top men’s and women’s teams will compete next month in the Amgen Tour of California, the premier U.S. cycling race.

The men will cover 645 miles over seven stages from Long Beach to Sacramento from May 13 to May 19. The women will have three of the top five teams for their three-day, 187-mile race that starts May 17 in Elk Grove.

Race owner AEG announced Thursday that Pete Sagan will ride for the BORA-hansgrohe team while Mark Cavendish will go for Team Dimension Data and be joined by Rafal Majka.

Tony Gallopin of AG2R La Mondiale is in the men’s field. So is LottoNL-Jumbo’s Nielson Powless, the race’s best young rider in 2016.

The women feature 2016 champion Megan Guarnier of USA Cycling National Team, Katie Hall of UnitedHealthcare and Kasia Niewiadoma of Canyon/SCRAM.