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Cima gets 1st pro win on Stage 18; Carapaz keeps Giro lead

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SANTA MARIA DI SALA, Italy (AP) Damiano Cima of Italy earned his first professional victory by winning the 18th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday, and Ecuadorian cyclist Richard Carapaz remained in the overall lead.

Cima, who rides for Nippo-Vini Fantini-Faizane, had been part of a three-man breakaway which was caught by the peloton in the final meters of the mainly downhill, 222-kilometer (138-mile) route from Valdaora to Santa Maria di Sala.

However, the 25-year-old Cima held on in the bunch sprint to get his team’s first ever Giro victory, in his first Grand Tour.

“I can’t believe what just happened,” Cima said. “I’ve spent so many kilometers in breakaways during this Giro. I thought I’d never make it but I’ve won today. It’s insane. It’s the dream of a lifetime.”

Pascal Ackermann was second, with Simone Consonni third. Ackermann, who was bidding for a third stage victory in this year’s race, hit his handlebars in frustration as he was pipped to the line by Cima.

“For sure I’m a little disappointed I did not win,” Ackermann said. “If you saw how the breakaway went, for sure he’s a lucky winner today. He was the strongest today. They were fighting really hard against our team when they were pulling.”

Carapaz remained 1 minute, 54 seconds ahead of Vincenzo Nibali and 2:16 ahead of Primoz Roglic of Slovenia.

“It’s been a quiet stage but a long one, intense at the beginning only,” said Carapaz, who rides for Movistar. “I’ve had a good support from my team again. Tomorrow will be an important test but I’m confident to keep the Maglia Rosa.”

The Giro heads back into the mountains for Friday’s 18th stage, a 151-kilometer route from Treviso, with an uphill finish to San Martino di Castrozza.

The three-week race finishes in Verona on Sunday.

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Bernal lifts injury-hit Team INEOS with Tour de Suisse title

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ULRICHEN, Switzerland — In a rough month for Team INEOS, Egan Bernal lifted the British squad with overall victory Sunday in the nine-day Tour de Suisse.

Bernal came to Switzerland to support team leader Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour de France champion, who crashed out in a nasty fall on Tuesday.

Thomas’ accident followed teammate and four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome suffering season-ending injuries in a training crash in France.

Bernal is still slated to start the Tour de France on July 6 as Thomas’ top aide, though this confirmed race-winning potential after his Paris-Nice title in March.

The 22-year-old Colombian finished 19 seconds ahead of Rohan Dennis overall after they finished Sunday’s stage together, 1 minute, 2 seconds behind Hugh Carthy’s solo breakaway on snow-lined roads.

Bernal was 3:04 clear overall of third-place Patrick Konrad.

Tour director says race won’t be same without Froome

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PARIS — The Tour de France just won’t be the same without four-time champion Chris Froome in the field, race director Christian Prudhomme told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Froome was injured last week in a crash in France that left him with multiple fractures. He let go of his handlebars to blow his nose and hit a wall at speed.

“Clearly, it changes things,” Prudhomme said. “The Tour de France with Chris Froome and without is not the same thing. He has been the central character since, we’ll say, 2013.

“So other scenarios are going to open up.”

Defending champion Geraint Thomas was also hurt in a crash this week at the Tour de Suisse. The 33-year-old Welshman required stitches above his eye but he is still expecting to defend his title.

“Luckily I’m all ok,” Thomas wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “It just means I’ll need some big training rides next week now.”

The setback cast further uncertainty over Team INEOS, formerly known as Team Sky, which has won six of the last seven Tours. Bradley Wiggins won in 2012, while Froome took the title 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and Thomas last year.

But with Froome out and Thomas recovering, that could open the door for 22-year-old teammate Egan Bernal.

“Of course, Dave Brailsford’s team will weigh on the Tour de France, as in previous years. But will it do so to such an extent and in the same way?” Prudhomme asked. “I imagine that he, Dave Brailsford, is asking himself lots of questions, too.

“Who will be the leader? The evidence, logic, dictates it will be Geraint Thomas, of course,” Prudhomme said. “But will that still be the case after his crash? There are lots of question marks. But we know that Egan Bernal is ready, it seems to me.”

After an impressive win at the Paris-Nice race in March, the Colombian then also crashed in training in May. He broke his collarbone, ruling him out of the Giro d’Italia. But he is racing at the Tour de Suisse and Prudhomme expects that the mountainous terrain of the Tour will play to Bernal’s climbing strengths. This year’s Tour will be the first with three stages that finish on summits above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), where the thin air will sap riders.

“We’re going very high this year,” Prudhomme said. “But nearly all of us believe that the Colombians won’t be less strong at 2,000 meters and Bernal, obviously, is Colombian.

“At first glance, on paper, it cannot be unfavorable for Bernal,” he added. “He is super-talented in the mountains. He can attack from far out.”

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