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.

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.”