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Nibali aiming to become oldest Giro winner in open race

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MILAN — After last year’s start in Israel and British cyclist Chris Froome’s victory in Rome, this year’s Giro d’Italia is likely to be a far more Italian affair.

And, with only two previous champions competing, one of the most open races in recent history.

Froome has decided to focus on winning a fifth Tour de France title rather than defend his Giro crown. Vincenzo Nibali is back, though, after the 2013 and 2016 winner decided to skip his home Grand Tour last year. Dutch cyclist Tom Dumoulin, who won the race in 2017 and finished runner-up last year, is also looking for another victory.

The 102nd edition of the race runs from May 11-June 2 and consists of 21 days of racing, totaling 3,518.5 kilometers (2,186.4 miles) between the start in Bologna and the finish in Verona.

Here are some key things to know about the race:

MAIN CONTENDERS

Nibali is looking to become the oldest Giro winner as he will be 34 years, 200 days when the race concludes in Verona.

The current oldest winner is Fiorenzo Magni, who was 34 years, 180 days when he won the 1955 Giro.

Nibali, who has also won the Tour and the Spanish Vuelta, has finished on the podium each of the previous five times he has competed in the Giro and Bahrain-Merida general manager Brent Copeland has warned rivals he is in great form.

“We have worked hard to get to the start of this Giro with the best possible team,” Copeland said. “Vincenzo has worked tremendously hard to the buildup of this race and his physical condition is at one of the best I have seen in years before a Grand Tour.”

Nibali’s main rivals include Dumoulin, Colombian climber Miguel Angel Lopez, Mikel Landa of Spain, the in-form Slovenian Primoz Roglic and Britain’s reigning Vuelta champion Simon Yates, who led the race for 13 days last year.

Another pre-race favorite, Colombian cyclist Egan Bernal, had to pull out after breaking his collarbone in a training accident last week.

World champion Alejandro Valverde and Fabio Aru are also out with injury.

MOUNTAIN DRAMA

The Giro features three individual time trials and seven mountain finishes in a testing route which features the toughest climbs during the second half to the race.

In total the riders will have to climb 46,500 meters of elevation, in what organizers have called “one of the hardest courses in recent years.”

There is just one stage suitable for sprinters in the final week and three high difficulty stages.

The final week starts with a bang as stage 16 is a long, testing Alpine leg of 226 kilometers with 5,700 meters of climbing.

The riders will face the Presolana Pass, the Croce di Salven Pass, the Gavia Pass – the highest point of this edition – and the Mortirolo Pass from the hardest side of Mazzo di Valtellina.

That is one of the toughest days of this year’s race along with the 14th stage, which is a short but intense leg, with 4,000 meters of climbing packed into 131 kilometers from Saint Vincent to Courmayeur.

There are four steep climbs in quick succession before the final ascent up to the foot of the Monte Bianco Skyway.

That comes before the race’s longest leg: 237 kilometers from Ivrea to Como

ITALIAN STYLE

This year’s Giro will stay almost entirely in Italy.

The race will cross into another country just once – and briefly at that – as it visits the republic of San Marino for the uphill finish of the ninth-stage time trial.

The 34.8-kilometer leg could mark the start of the real battle for overall victory and every second lost will be tough to pull back as the race heads into the mountains.

That day is also the race’s “wine stage” as it celebrates the red Sangiovese wines of the area.

A number of important social and cultural references will be made over the course.

Stage seven finishes in L’Aquila, where the Giro will commemorate 10 years since the earthquake that devastated the city and its surroundings in 2009.

The Giro will also remember people that have impacted Italy’s history.

The third stage will start from the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci, 500 years after his death. Stage eight finishes in Pesaro, the birthplace of the composer Gioacchino Rossini.

Roglic wins Stage 9; Conti keeps pink jersey in Giro

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SAN MARINO (AP) Primoz Roglic of Slovenia won the ninth stage of the Giro d’Italia on Sunday as Italian cyclist Valerio Conti extended his overall lead after the individual time trial.

Roglic, who also won the opening individual time trial, was quickest on the rain-soaked 35-kilometer (22-mile) route from Riccione that had an uphill finish in San Marino – the only time this year that the Giro crosses into another country.

The 29-year-old Roglic was 11 seconds faster than Belgium cyclist Victor Campenaerts and one minute ahead of Bauke Mollema of the Netherlands.

Roglic had been more than five minutes behind Conti going into the time trial but moved into second overall, 1:50 behind the UAE Team Emirates cyclist, who had replaced Roglic in the overall lead after finishing second in Thursday’s sixth stage.

Moreover, Roglic gained time on his rivals. British cyclist Simon Yates – one of the pre-race favorites – finished more than three minutes behind Roglic.

“It’s a perfect performance in my mind. I did a good job,” Roglic said. “I took it easy at the beginning and I gave it all at the end.

“It’s nice to take some time over the other GC favorites but the Giro is far from over.”

Nans Peters of France moved third overall, 2:21 behind Conti.

“It was very rainy for me but I stayed calm. My goal was to keep the Maglia Rosa so I’m very happy with the result,” Conti said.

Vincenzo Nibali fared the best out of the rest of the pre-race favorites, finishing fourth on a day which saw only 12 riders finish within two minutes of the winner. The Italian is 3:34 behind Conti.

Monday is the race’s first rest day before Tuesday’s 10th stage, an entirely flat 145-kilometer route from Ravenna to Modena.

The Giro finishes in Verona on June 2.

Pogacar, van der Breggen win Tour of California

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PASADENA, Calif. – Tadej Pogacar did the work necessary to win the Tour of California on the steep climb of Mt. Baldy.

His team did the work it needed for him to win on the run-in to Pasadena.

With big names going on the attack midway through the final stage Saturday, UAE Team Emirates was able to consistently keep their young star out of trouble. And when the field came back for a sprint at the Rose Bowl, all Pogacar had to do was raise his hands in overall victory.

Cees Bol of Team Sunweb won the group sprint ahead of three-time world champion Peter Sagan to win the seventh stage, while Jasper Philipsen capped a big day for Team Emirates with a third-place run.

Pogacar’s first WorldTour stage race victory came ahead of Sergio Iguita, who went on the attack on one of the day’s final climbs, and Kasper Asgreen of the strong Deceuninck-Quick Step team.

“This was my main goal this year,” said the 20-year-old Pogacar, who was inspired to pick up cycling by his brother. “I knew that I was prepared. I surprised myself a bit that I took the overall win, but I’m really happy and I’m looking forward to next year.”

In the three-stage women’s race, Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen held the lead she took on the first stage all the way to Pasadena, finishing 29 seconds ahead of teammate Katie Hall.

Elisa Balsamo beat Arlenis Sierra and Leigh Ann Ganzer in a sprint on the final stage.

“It’s really special,” said van der Breggen, who finished just behind Hall on the Stage 2 climb to Mt. Baldy. “Katie won here last year and I the year before. We get to work together now. Yeah, getting a one-two result, we didn’t think that was possible before. It’s great for the spirit of the team.”

The short final stage took riders 126 kilometers from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. And with Pogacar holding a 16-second lead on Higuita after his win on Mt. Baldy, the contenders knew they had to make something happen on the short hills midway through the stage.

Max Shachmann got into an early breakaway with Davide Ballerini, Alex Hoehn and a handful of other strong climbers. Asgreen soon attacked the lead group, but their advantage over Pogacar’s chase group was not enough to prevent the field coming together during the final circuits around the stadium.

Deceuninck-Quick Step, which had a strong week of racing, set the tempo for its sprinter, Fabio Jakobsen, and Team Ineos tried to set up Kristoffer Halvorsen with a lead-out. But it was Bol, riding for Team Sunweb, who timed his sprint perfectly to nip Sagan at the line.

“It was quite a chaotic stage,” Sagan said. “I probably reacted a bit late to Bol’s sprint.”

Philipsen’s third-place finish helped him secure the best young rider jersey, while Asgreen won the points jersey as the top sprinter and Ballerini secured the king of the mountains jersey.

“This is my first time here in California. It’s beautiful country,” Ballerini said. “I tried to win a stage but it wasn’t easy. I tried to get away also today, but it was a very short, fast stage.”

That was good news for Pogacar, who was able to hold onto his 16-second advantage over Higuita, riding for EF Education First. Asgreen was another second back to round out the podium, while former race winner George Bennett was 29 seconds back in fourth for his Team Jumbo-Visma.

Asked where the relatively unknown Pogacar picked up his beyond-his-years poise and tactics, he replied: “I think from all the racing over the years, with great coaching. I’ve been racing 10 years now and you learn stuff. But I still don’t know everything.”

It seems as if van der Breggen does.

The world’s best rider by a wide margin, van der Breggen stayed close to the front of the peloton as it reeled in the breakaway, helping to ensure the final stage of the women’s race would be a sprint.

American rider Coryn Rivera came to the front and was just starting to ramp up the speed when she sustained a mechanical problem at the worst possible moment. That opened the door for Balsamo, who held off Sierra and Ganzer with Chloe Dygert of the U.S. right behind in fourth.

Van der Breggen and Hall were joined on the final podium by Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio.

“It was a hard stage race. Three beautiful stages,” van der Breggen said. “They didn’t make it easy for us the last day. We’re really happy to finish first and second. It’s a great result.”

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