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.

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.”