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.

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.”