World champion Peter Sagan opens Tour of California with win

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SAN DIEGO (AP) Peter Sagan wasn’t quite ready to strip off the yellow jersey at the Tour of California.

The surprising overall winner a year ago, Sagan unleashed a powerful sprint at the last possible moment on Sunday, overcoming Dutch riders Wouter Wippert and Dylan Groenewegen to win the 109-mile first stage that began and ended along the San Diego waterfront.

Sagan was quiet all day in the peloton, then freelanced his way through the field as the pace picked up on the wide boulevards to the finish. He swung wide of Wippert and Groenewegen within sight of the finish line, thrusting his bike across in first by less than a tire length.

It was the 14th stage win in California for the Slovakian superstar, and continues one of the most impressive stretches in recent cycling history that began on the opposite coast.

Sagan won the world championship last September in Richmond, Virginia.

The opening stage include only one serious climb, midway through the route, so there was plenty of time for the field to come together. An early seven-rider breakaway never stood much chance, and when it was reduced to three, they were swept up altogether with about 2 miles left to go.

The stage figured to be a sprint finish all along, but missing from the front were several of the sport’s biggest names – Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff and John Degenkolb.

Groenewegen, riding for Lotto-Jumbo, took advantage of his team’s strong lead-out to make the first move at the finish. Wippert flashed by him in his Cannondale colors and looked for a moment like he would give his U.S.-based team a stunning victory in the biggest race on American soil.

The two dark-horses then watched the world’s top-ranked rider storm right past them.

The second stage on Monday, a 92-mile ride from Pasadena to Santa Clarita, could give Sagan an opportunity to hang onto the leader’s jersey. There are four rated climbs that could shake up the field, but there’s also enough time after the final one to produce another bunched finish.

Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

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ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”