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.”

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.”