Pogacar wins Stage 6 of Tour of California to take lead

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ONTARIO, Calif. — UAE Team Emirates began its week at the Tour of California by sending home one of its riders upon learning that his name had surfaced in a European investigation into doping in cycling.

The team appears set to end it with the overall race lead.

Tadej Pogacar reeled in several top contenders on Friday’s final climb to Mt. Baldy, then matched every attack thrown down by Sergio Higuita. That allowed him to reach the finish line first and take not only the sixth stage but also the lead in the general classification with just a day of racing to go.

In the women’s race, American climber Katie Hall surged in the final couple kilometers up Mt. Baldy before holding off teammate Anna van der Breggen for the stage win. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio was third.

Van der Breggen retained the overall lead by 29 seconds over Hall, the defending race winner.

UAE Team Emirates has ridden this week without Kristijan Durasek, who was caught up in the Austrian doping probe. But it hardly mattered for Pogacar, who stayed out of trouble during the earlier stages and was in fourth place and 16 seconds adrift of Tejay van Garderen entering Friday’s stage.

Van Garderen’s team tried to pace him to the top, but the 2013 race winner cracked before some of his EF-Education First teammates. Gianni Mascon of Team Ineos, who had been third, also dropped off the brutal pace up the steep Mt. Baldy climb, throwing the race wide open.

George Bennett tried to join the fray in the closing kilometer, but he was unable to make up the ground on Pogacar and Higuita, making it a true duel to the finish line.

Higuita led the way heading to the final corner, but the diminutive Colombian swung low and took a better line, allowing him to pull ahead and sprint clear for the victory.

He now leads by 16 seconds ahead of Higuita with Kasper Asgreen in third.

Several riders in the women’s race tried to attack on the tough climb of Mt. Baldy, too, and Omer Shapira was the first to offer a truly dangerous move. Hall soon followed with about 2+ kilometers (1 + miles) to go, and van der Breggen soon bridged to make a trio of riders at the front.

Shapira was unable to keep up with Hall and van der Breggen, the reigning world champion. That left the two Boels-Dolmans riders to duel on the final kilometer to the summit, and Hall made the pass within sight of the finish line to snag the stage victory.

The final stage Saturday takes the men and women 126 kilometers (78 miles) from Santa Clarita to Pasadena, but both overall leaders will be expected to protect their jerseys before the finish at the Rose Bowl.

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.”