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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.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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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