Alaphilippe wins protest-hit stage, Thomas keeps Tour lead

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BAGNERES-DE-LUCHON, France (AP) Julian Alaphilippe took advantage of his downhill skills to win the wild 16th stage of the Tour de France on Tuesday, which was briefly interrupted when police used tear gas to disperse a farmers’ protest that had blocked the road with bales of hay.

The overall standings were unchanged with Geraint Thomas in the yellow jersey, second-placed Chris Froome and third-placed Tom Dumoulin each crossing 8 minutes, 52 seconds behind.

Thomas remained 1 minute, 39 seconds ahead of four-time champion Froome, with Dumoulin 1:50 back.

Alaphillipe took the lead when Adam Yates crashed on a technical descent in the finale.

“I knew the finale was tricky,” Alaphilippe said. “I was sad for (Yates) but it could have happened to me, too, because I took a lot of risks. … I went all out for 220 kilometers today, I’m exhausted.”

Belgian rider Philippe Gilbert crashed earlier in the stage while in the lead when descending from the Col de Portet-d’Aspet, hitting a wall and flipping off his bike but avoiding major injury. It was the same descent where Italian rider Fabio Casartelli died in the 1995 Tour.

Gilbert, the 2012 world champion and a Quick-Step teammate of Alaphilippe, appeared to avoid major injuries and was treated for some scrapes on his left arm after getting back on his bike.

A Frenchman, Alaphilippe also won the 10th stage and is wearing the polka-dot jersey of the mountains classification leader.

The farmers’ protest occurred 30 kilometers into the 218-kilometer (135.5-mile) leg from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon.

Thomas, Froome, world champion Peter Sagan and other riders were treated with eye drops due to the tear gas amid a 15-minute delay.

The small group of farmers from the Ariege department were protesting the reduction of European Union funding, French media reported.

“We are not going to lock the riders in a stadium or a tennis court,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme said. “People should not block the road, no matter what causes they are fighting for.”

Yates led Alaphilippe by 20 seconds at the top of the Col du Portillon climb 10 kilometers from the finish but lost control with 6K to go, falling to the pavement on a left turn and sliding across the road.

Alaphilippe, who was already gaining ground on Yates, quickly passed the British rider and had time to celebrate before the finish, smiling at the crowd and shaking his head in disbelief.

Spanish rider Gorka Izaguirre finished second, 15 seconds behind, and Yates crossed third with the same time.

It was the first of three mountainous stages in the Pyrenees before Sunday’s conclusion in Paris.

Passing briefly through Spain, the route featured three climbs in the finale – the Col de Portet-d’Aspet, the Col de Mente and the Col du Portillon – followed by a downhill finish.

The race remains in the Pyrenees on Wednesday for what could be the most challenging stage of the Tour, a 65-kilometer leg from Bagneres-de Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan Col du Portet that features three grueling climbs, including an uphill finish – and hardly a stretch of flat road.

Associated Press writers Samuel Petrequin and Ciaran Fahey contributed.

More Tour de France coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/TourdeFrance

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.”