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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.”

Ban for 2011 Vuelta winner Cobo could give title to Froome

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AIGLE, Switzerland — Juan Jose Cobo has been banned from cycling for three years after being found guilty of doping in 2011, the year he won the Spanish Vuelta.

Cobo’s ban puts 2011 Vuelta runner-up Chris Froome in line for a seventh Grand Tour title.

The International Cycling Union says Cobo has been found “guilty of an anti-doping rule violation.” The UCI says the case was “based on abnormalities from 2009 and 2011 detected in his biological passport.”

The now-retired 38-year-old Spanish rider won the three-week Vuelta for his first Grand Tour title in September 2011, finishing 13 seconds ahead of Froome. Bradley Wiggins was third.

The UCI says Cobo has a one-month deadline to file an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Carapaz on verge of Giro victory; Bilbao wins Stage 20

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CROCE D’AUNE-MONTE AVENA, Italy (AP) Ecuadorian cyclist Richard Carapaz took a huge step towards winning the Giro d’Italia as he preserved his overall lead at the end of the penultimate stage, which was won by Pello Bilbao of Spain on Saturday.

Carapaz, who rides for Movistar, remained 1 minute, 54 seconds ahead of Vincenzo Nibali ahead of the final time trial in Verona on Sunday.

“We’ve tried to win the stage with Mikel Landa as well as myself to retain the Maglia Rosa but we’ve missed out by very little,” Carapaz said. “However, we’re happy with how it went. I believe 1:54 over Nibali is enough although anything can happen in a final time trial.”

Landa leapfrogged Primoz Roglic into third, 2:53 behind Carapaz, after finishing second in a sprint with Bilbao after 194 kilometers (121 miles) from Feltre to Croce d’Aune-Monte Avena, which had five long, categorized climbs in the Dolomites.

It was Bilbao’s second Grand Tour victory after the Astana rider triumphed on Stage 7.

“I knew that Carapaz would try to give the win to Mikel Landa so I followed the best wheel,” Bilbao said. “My first win was special. This second win is even better because it’s a big mountain stage. When the GC riders caught us I thought it would be hard but they were tired, too.”

Giulio Ciccone was third, two seconds behind the front two.

Miguel Angel Lopez had hopes of competing for a stage win but he was tripped by a fan, who was running alongside encouraging him but collided with another spectator and fell onto the cyclist. As Lopez got back up, he slapped the fan. Lopez was still visibly furious when he crossed the line 18th, 1:49 off the pace.

“I’m sorry for what happened, I was full of pure adrenaline. But there needs to be more respect for the cyclists,” Lopez said.

Another incident with a fan also cost Roglic. The Slovenian was pushed by a spectator and didn’t attempt to push him away and so was penalized 10 seconds by the race jury. Roglic, who finished 50 seconds behind Carapaz, now trails by 3:16 overall. However, he is a time trial specialist and will hope to at least finish the three-week race on the podium.

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