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.”

Yates’ Giro lead cut in half, Schachmann wins 18th stage

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PRATO NEVOSO, Italy – Simon Yates remained in the lead of the Giro d’Italia but the British rider’s advantage over closest rival Tom Dumoulin was slashed in half after the tough 18th stage on Thursday.

Yates was dropped by his rivals on the steep Category 1 climb to Prato Nevoso and he finished 28 seconds behind defending champion Dumoulin, who crossed the line with Domenico Pozzovivo and Chris Froome.

“I was just tired, that’s it. Still a few days to go. I can bounce back, no worries,” Yates said.

Maximilian Schachmann of Germany won from a breakaway to claim his first victory in a Grand Tour.

Schachmann attacked heading into the final section of the climb, finishing 10 seconds ahead of Ruben Plaza and 16 ahead of Mattia Cattaneo.

The rest of the breakaway, which escaped 16 kilometers into the mainly flat 196-kilometer (122-mile) route from Abbiategrasso finished more than a minute off the pace.

“The final kilometers were really, really hard,” said Schachmann, who rides for Quick-Step Floors. “I knew I had a good chance from the breakaway. I tried to play it safe, to not attack too early. It was really hard, we are already on stage 18 so no one has fresh legs anymore.”

Yates’ lead was cut to 28 seconds heading into the final three days of the Giro, which includes two brutal days in the Alps before the procession to Rome.

“I always said if I have the legs then I will keep on trying,” Dumoulin said. “I had the legs today and I tried and it worked. Finally, after two and a half weeks.”

Pozzovivo remained third but was 2:43 behind Yates, with Froome a further 39 seconds behind.

Froome arrived at the Giro bidding to become the third person to win three Grand Tours in a row but the four-time Tour de France champion crashed in training before the opening time trial, lost time in a split on stage four, and injured himself again in a second crash four days later.

“It was quite a good day today,” Froome said in Italian. “This is the first of three consecutive stages which will be very hard. We saw for the first time Simon not at 100 percent. That surprised me as until now he has been fantastic.

“After the fall at the start I didn’t feel 100 percent but each day I felt better and now I’m quite good.”

There are four mountain passes on the route up to Bardonecchia on Friday, followed by Saturday’s “queen stage” up to Cervinia.

The Giro finishes in Rome on Sunday.

Viviani wins 17th stage for 4th win, Yates keeps Giro lead

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ISEO, Italy (AP) Elia Viviani sprinted to his fourth victory of this year’s Giro d’Italia on Wednesday, and Simon Yates maintained his hold on the leader’s pink jersey after the 17th stage.

The Italian won a bunch sprint through rain at the end of the hilly, 155-kilometer ride from Riva del Garda to Iseo, holding up four fingers as he crossed the line.

Sam Bennett, who was looking for his third victory, was second and Niccolo Bonifazio was third.

“Bennett could have moved level today. It was a stage that was more suited to him. He tried to put us in difficulty,” said Viviani. “It was a hard stage because no one wanted to let the breakaway go. The team did a super job. I think they were perfect.”

Danny van Poppel was the first to launch his sprint on the rain-soaked approach to the finish, but Zdenek Stybar and Fabio Sabatini gave a great leadout for Viviani, their Quick-Step Floors teammate.

“I had a few slips, and I just lost the nerve,” said a teary Bennett, his voice cracking with emotion. “I just couldn’t get out. I had the legs again and I just couldn’t get out.”

There was no change in the general classification with Yates leading defending champion Tom Dumoulin by 56 seconds.

“There’s no easy day at the Giro,” Yates said. “This was another hard one and it could have some impact on the coming mountain stages. I heard about splits in the bunch but I never knew who was caught behind.

“I hope everyone is tired because I’m tired.”

Domenico Pozzovivo remained 3:11 behind Yates and 39 seconds ahead of four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome as the races prepares to head into the Alps.

Thursday’s 18th stage is a mainly flat 196-kilometer route from Abbiategrasso to Prato Nevoso, but ends with a steep Category 1 climb – the first of three summit finishes.

There are four mountain passes on the route up to Bardonecchia Friday, before Saturday’s “queen stage” up to Cervinia.

The Giro finishes in Rome on Sunday.