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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.

2021 Tour de France race to start in Denmark

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) The Tour de France will start in Denmark in 2021, beginning with a ride in Copenhagen followed by two more stages around the country.

The opening stage on July 2 will be a 13-kilometer flat run around the capital.

“It is an honor to have the grand depart in Copenhagen,” race director Christian Prudhomme said Thursday.

A 190-kilometer stage between Roskilde and Nyborg, a town on the island of Funen, will follow. That stage will include pedaling on the windy bridges that make up the Storebaelt rail-and-road link.

“The wind is very, very important for the race. It was important to have the finishing line close to the bridge,” Prudhomme said. “Stage 2 is for sports enthusiasts.”

The last stage before heading back to France will be in the hilly Jutland peninsula between the towns of Vejle and Soenderborg.

The contract for the 90 million kroner ($13.7 million) Danish start was signed Thursday by Prudhomme and Copenhagen Mayor Frank Jensen.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, himself an avid cycling fan, called the Tour de France “the most iconic cycling race of all time.”

Both Prudhomme and Loekke Rasmussen noted Denmark had been picked because of the country’s interest in the race but also because many Danes bicycle to work and school every day. The Danish prime minister said ordinary people in Copenhagen bike “330 Tour de France races every day.”

In 2011, the International Cycling Union held its Road World Championships in Copenhagen.

Other details of the 2021 Tour de France route were not disclosed.

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2020 Vuelta to start with three stages in Netherlands

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MADRID — The 2020 Spanish Vuelta will start with three stages in the Netherlands.

Organizers say the race’s 75th edition will begin with stages in the provinces of Utrecht and North Brabant, with riders going through 34 Dutch municipalities in three days.

More than 400 kilometers (248 miles) of the Grand Tour event will be in Dutch territory before the riders return to Spain.

The 2009 edition of the Vuelta also started in the Netherlands.

The announcement was made Wednesday in the Dutch town of Breda.

This year’s race will have stages going through France and Andorra.

British rider Simon Yates is the defending Spanish Vuelta champion.