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Cortina, van der Breggen win Tour of California stages

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VENTURA, Calif. — Team Bahrain-Merida spent most of the fifth stage at the Tour of California at the front of the peloton, setting a hard pace but leaving nobody quite sure what their end-game might be.

Turns out it was Ivan Garcia Cortina.

The 23-year-old Spanish cyclist moved to the front after the final couple of solo attacks were reeled in by the rest of the field, then sprinted ahead of Maximiliano Richeze and Sergio Higuita to win a stage Thursday that was racked by brutal crosswinds of up to 45 mph near the finish.

Tejay van Garderen finished safely in the main field to retain the overall race lead.

“It was really windy for us,” he said. “We survived OK. The team kept me safe, kept the breakaway in check and we were able to survive another day.”

In the women’s race, which began with an out-and-back ride to Ventura, reigning Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen got loose in the final couple miles to win the opening stage.

After a chaotic and controversial fourth stage, when crashes near the finish put the overall lead in the hands of the race jury, the fifth stage of the men’s race was relatively straightforward.

The opening breakaway covered most of the lumpy, 136-mile run from Pismo Beach before it was brought back in the closing miles. Tim Declercq gave it a solo shot with about 6 miles to go, building a substantial lead, but he was swept up on the final climb before the finish.

Former overall winner George Bennett also attacked on the windy run-in, but the group came together for the final mile and it was Cortina who got to the front to win the bunch sprint.

“The team had full confidence in me,” said Cortina, who got his first WorldTour win after several close calls last season. “I was thinking about, if I can give 200 percent I can win.”

Richeze followed across for Deceuninck-Quick Step, which had won each of the previous three stages with different riders. Higuita rounded out the podium for EF Education First, which did a masterful job of controlling the race and keeping van Garderen in the yellow jersey.

“It was just a really fast day,” said van Garderen, whose lead dropped to four seconds over Kasper Asgreen and six over Gianni Moscon heading into the tour’s penultimate day.

Van der Breggen will have the yellow jersey for Stage 2 of the women’s race after the world champ, fresh off her victory at La Fleche Wallonne, showed veteran patience all afternoon.

Olga Zabelinskaya tried to attack late in the race, and Lizzie Deignan soon joined her in the pursuit. But the duo was caught as the field approached the same finish as the men, and van der Breggen surged ahead to seize control of the race she won two years ago.

“The team performed well,” said Danny Stam, the manager of van der Breggen’s powerful Boels-Dolmans team. “Katie (Hall) attacked after 53 kilometers (33 miles), causing the break. After that we brought back the leader just in time for Anna to place her final attack. She brought home the victory.”

Elisa Balsamo took second place and Arlenis Sierra rounded out the podium.

Now comes the crucial stage for both the men and women.

The sixth stage for the men Friday takes riders just 79 miles, but it includes the torturous climb up Mt. Baldy, where the overall race is likely to be decided. Some sections of the climb reach a grade of 16%, eclipsing even some of the steepest European climbs.

The women also will trek through the San Gabriel Mountains before ending up at Mt. Baldy, where defending race winner Katie Hall will stretch her climbing legs in an attempt to win again.

“The feeling in our team, the mood is really good,” van Garderen said. “We have three riders in the race still with the potential to win on Baldy, we’re super confident that we have the strongest team here and I think in our mind we’re still playing for the victory.”

Hermans wins Tour of Utah with strong ride in final stage

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PARK CITY, Utah — Ben Hermans finished near the front once more in the final stage of the Tour of Utah on Sunday, allowing him to wrap up the overall title after taking second in the week-long race a year ago.

Joe Dombrowski won the finale, an 83-mile trek that began and ended in Park City, with 24 seconds to spare over a chase group led by Joao Almeida. Herman and Keegan Swirbul were another two seconds back with James Piccoli, one of the main instigators all week, rounding out the top five.

The finish was enough to give Hermans, riding for the Israel Cycling Academy, a 50-second margin over Piccoli with Dombrowski another 42 seconds back in third place.

The 33-year-old Hermans has experienced something of a rejuvenation this season. He won a stage and the overall at the Tour of Austria before taking the second and third stages in Utah.

“It’s really amazing,” the Belgian said. “I’ve been fourth, second last year, and to win – finally first. I really enjoy it here. It’s amazing to ride for these crowds and to be there on the podium in the yellow jersey is really, really nice.”

Travis McCabe won the white jersey awarded to the race’s top sprinter. Piccolli was crowned most aggressive rider, Almeida was top young rider and Hayden McCormick won the mountains classification.

Italian cycling great Felice Gimondi dies at age 76

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ROME == Felice Gimondi, one of only seven cyclists to have won all three Grand Tours, has died. He was 76.

The Italian Cycling Federation (FCI) said efforts to resuscitate Gimondi failed after the Italian suffered a heart attack while swimming on vacation in Sicily on Friday and died the same day.

Gimondi won the Tour de France in 1965 as a 22-year-old in his first year as a professional. He went on to win the Giro d’Italia in 1967, 1969 and 1976, and the Spanish Vuelta in 1968.

“Felice was one of the greatest champions to win great tours, a world championship and important classics while contesting, he alone, Eddy Merckx,” FCI president Renato Di Rocco said. “A great man who marked an era. Italian cycling mourns the passing of one of its pillars.”

Five-time Tour de France winner Merckx told Italian news agency ANSA, “A man like Gimondi is not born every day. With him goes a piece of my life. He was among the greatest ever.”

The other cyclists to win all three Grand Tours are Belgian rider Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault of France, Alberto Contador of Spain, Vincenzo Nibali of Italy and Britain’s Chris Froome.