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Chaves wins Stage 19, Carapaz keeps Giro lead

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SAN MARTINO DI CASTROZZA, Italy (AP) Esteban Chaves secured an emotional victory on the 19th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Friday, and Ecuadorian cyclist Richard Carapaz remained in the overall lead.

Chaves earned his first win since being diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus while competing in last year’s Giro and taking eight months off from racing.

“This is pure happiness,” Chaves said. “It takes a heavy weight off my back. It’s a relief to be a winner again. It shows I can do it.”

Chaves, a Colombian who rides for Mitchelton-Scott, crossed the line 10 seconds ahead of Italian cyclist Andrea Vendrame, who had two mechanical failures in the final 4 kilometers of the uphill finish to San Martino di Castrozza.

Amaro Antunes was third, 12 seconds behind Chaves at the end of the 151-kilometer route from Treviso.

The trio had been part of an 11-man breakaway that escaped early in the stage and Chaves whittled down with a series of attacks on the final climb.

“Because the last climb wasn’t very steep, I had to attack many, many times,” Chaves said. “A big thank you to everyone who supported me when I had a hard time.”

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

“It’s another good day for us and we’re looking forward to tomorrow,” Carapaz said. “We’re ready to defend the Maglia Rosa in a harder stage than today.”

The penultimate stage Saturday is the last chance Carapaz’s rivals have to gain significant time on the Movistar cyclist ahead of the final time trial in Verona on Sunday.

The 20th stage is the last mountain leg, with five long, categorized climbs in the Dolomites along the 194-kilometer route from Feltre to Croce d’Aune-Monte Avena.

This story has been corrected to show it was Stage 19 of the Giro, not Stage 18.

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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