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.

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.”