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Bennett wins 7th stage as Yates maintains Giro d’Italia lead

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PRAIA A MARE, Italy – Sam Bennett timed his sprint to perfection to win the seventh stage of the Giro d’Italia, while British rider Simon Yates remained in the overall lead as the race went over to the Italian mainland on Friday.

Bennett was the last to launch his sprint but the Irish rider managed to edge out Elia Viviani – who won two of the opening three stages – and claim his first win in a Grand Tour.

Niccolo Bonifazio was third in the bunch sprint at the end of the flat 159-kilometer (99-mile) route along the Calabrian coast from Pizzo to Praia a Mare.

“I’m really happy with that,” said Bennett, who finished third in each of Viviani’s wins. “I tried so hard the other days to get the win but never seemed to get the timing right.

“It was very hard to get Viviani’s wheel, everyone wanted that wheel, and we had to fight for it. At one point I thought we’d left it too late but the timing was right and I could use my power to get an advantage.”

There was an early break of three cyclists and the peloton allowed Davide Ballerini, Markel Irizar and Maxim Belkov an advantage of more than four minutes before it began to reel them in.

They were caught with 14 kilometers remaining as the peloton powered to the sprint finish and victory for Bennett and his Bora-Hansgrohe team.

The general classification was unchanged and Yates, who won the young rider classification at last year’s Tour de France, retained his 16-second advantage over defending champion Tom Dumoulin.

Yates’ Mitchelton-Scott teammate, Esteban Chaves, remained third overall, 26 seconds behind.

Four-time Tour de France winner Froome was in eighth place, 1 minute, 10 seconds behind.

“It was a good first day in the maglia rosa, relaxed at the start,” Yates said. “For us as a team it was perfect. A bit stressful at the final as always but OK.

“Tomorrow, if I have the legs, I might try something. I still need to get some time on Tom Dumoulin and some other guys who are better time trialists than me.”

Saturday’s eighth stage sees the second mountain finish at the end of a 209-kilometer (130-mile) route from Praia a Mare to Montevergine.

The Giro ends in Rome on May 27.

Froome effectively seals Giro title in penultimate stage

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CERVINIA, Italy (AP) Chris Froome effectively sealed victory in the Giro d’Italia on Saturday by holding his only remaining challenger in check up the final climb of the three-week race.

The four-time Tour de France champion takes a 40-second lead over Tom Dumoulin into Sunday’s mostly ceremonial finish in Rome and is poised to win his third consecutive Grand Tour, matching the achievements of cycling greats Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault.

Dumoulin attacked Froome multiple times on the finishing climb of the 214-kilometer (133-mile) leg from Susa to Cervinia but in five attempts wasn’t able to gain any ground. After Dumoulin’s fifth attack, Froome responded with an acceleration of his own and dropped Dumoulin briefly.

Spanish rider Mikel Nieve of the Mitchelton-Scott team won the stage with a long, solo breakaway to celebrate his 34th birthday.

The concluding stage is a flat 115-kilometer (71-mile) leg of 10 laps around a circuit through the center of Rome.

Froome pulls off audacious attack to take Giro lead

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BARDONECCHIA, Italy (AP) Chris Froome produced one of the great performances of his career, attacking alone on a gravel road up a grueling climb to win the 19th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Friday and claim the overall leader’s pink jersey.

The four-time Tour de France champion launched his solo attack up the three-week race’s highest climb with 80 kilometers (50 miles) to go and rode clear amid banks of snow above the tree line.

Pedaling furiously, Froome continuously increased his advantage over two more Alpine ascents to finish three minutes ahead of his closest challenger.

The victory put Froome in position to win his third consecutive Grand Tour and match the achievements of the great Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault. There are two stages of the Giro left.

“I don’t think I’ve ever attacked 80 kilometers from the finish, riding on my own and going all the way to the finish,” Froome said. “I knew there was a long way to go but to win this Giro d’Italia I had to do something extraordinary. I couldn’t wait for the last climb. I had to do something crazy.

“Colle delle Finestre was the perfect place to do it. Gravel roads remind me of Africa,” added Froome, who races for Britain with Team Sky but was born and raised in Kenya.

Froome leads defending champion Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands by 40 seconds in the overall standings. Frenchman Thibaut Pinot is third overall, 4:17 behind.

There is one more mountainous stage on Saturday, a 214-kilometer leg from Susa to Cervinia, before Sunday’s mostly ceremonial finish in Rome.

Froome had started the day fourth overall, more than three minutes behind previous leader Simon Yates.

Yates fell far behind up the grueling climb on Colle delle Finestre as Froome launched his audacious attack, and finished nearly 40 minutes behind.

It was Yates’ 13th day wearing the pink jersey.

Richard Carapaz of Ecuador crossed second in the stage, exactly three minutes behind, and French challenger Thibaut Pinot finished third, 3:07 back.

Dumoulin came fifth, 3:23 behind Froome.

Froome arrived at the Giro with big hopes but had not really been a threat after crashing in training before the opening time trial, losing time in a split on stage four, and injuring himself again in a second crash four days later. His only previous highlight in the race was winning Stage 14 up Monte Zoncolan, one of the toughest climbs in Europe.

“It was a very, very tough start for me after the fall,” Froome said. “But I kept up my morale for the finish and I knew that if I did everything right the time to attack would come. That moment came today.”

Only two riders have ever won three or more consecutive Grand Tours. Merckx won four straight between 1972 and 1973 and Hinault took three in a row in 1982 and 1983.

However, Froome is racing under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample he provided at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level. It remains unclear when the International Cycling Union will rule on the case.

Froome denies any wrongdoing.

The 185-kilometer (115-mile) leg from Venaria Reale to Bardonecchia in the Piedmont region was considered the race’s toughest.

Passing through the region where the 2006 Turin Olympics were held, the route contained more than 4,000 meters of climbing and traversed the highest point of the race – the Cima Coppi (Coppi peak) – at an altitude of 2,178 meters (more than 7,000 feet) atop the Colle delle Finestre.

Froome attacked shortly after the road turned to gravel halfway up the Finestre.

Fabio Aru, a pre-race favorite, retired midway through the stage.

Saturday’s stage features three category 1 climbs, including an uphill finish.