Howes, Winder win USA Cycling road national championships

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Alex Howes won his first national championships with a deftly played chess match.

Ruth Winder won hers with brute power.

After getting dropped by breakaway companions Stephen Bassett and Neilson Powless, Howes caught back on in the closing miles Sunday, then swept to the lead on the final climb. The EF Education First rider cleanly made it through the last left-hand turn and raised his arms in victory.

Bassett came through in second and Powless rounded out the podium.

“I’ve been running after this one for a while, eight years or so,” Howes said. “I’ve been on the podium a few times and always an animator and just never there, and today we went early and just kept going and I can’t believe it paid off.”

Earlier in the day, Winder won the women’s race after a dramatic solo attack six miles from the finish, holding off hard-charging Coryn Rivera and Emma White at the finish line.

“Just keep on going, that’s all I was thinking. Just trying to motivate myself to go as hard as I could,” Winder said. “Coming across the finish line, I thought everyone was going to pass me in the last 100 meters, just coming down there because I was dying so bad. I had nothing. I sat down. And I was like, `Get up! Sprint, sprint, sprint!’ Nobody passed me and I can’t believe that I won.”

The men’s race came down to a cat-and-mouse game between the three breakaway riders.

Powless was the first to attack with about four miles to go, then Bassett – the hometown hero – countered and Howes was dropped from the group. That left the best-known rider in the trio fighting to get back with the leaders on a scorching day in Tennessee.

The Denver native finally caught back on, and it became a tactical battle among the trio.

Powless was the first to crack on the final hill, and Bassett ramped up the pace to create a gap, raising the hopes of his personal cheering section. But as he crested the final hill, Bassett looked over to see Howes pulling even, then swinging to the lead on the final downhill push.

He breezed through the final left-hand corner to claim a long-awaited national championship.

The women’s race covered just over 70 miles, but nothing was decided until riders returned to Knoxville and began making laps toward a large crowd awaiting them at the finish.

Winder’s teammate, Tayler Wiles, began to set the pace for a chase group up Sherrod Road, and Lily Williams and Shayna Powless soon joined Winder on the attack. They swept up a pair of breakaway riders and kept working together until Winder and Williams built a gap.

“It’s just really hard to get away in a breakaway in these races,” Winder said, “because everybody is watching everybody else so intently, so I tried being a little bit sneaky about my attack. I wanted to know how Tayler was, of course, but I also used it as a way to be sneaky in my attack. Because she had just gone really, really hard and everyone was just started to slow up, and I was like, `Hey, are you doing OK?’ And she’s like, `Yeah.’ And, `OK, cool. See you.”‘

Winder left Williams behind on the final climb of Sherrod Road, but she still needed to survive about six miles with a strong but reduced peloton giving frantic chase.

Wiles was there to help once again, going to the front and effectively slowing it down. Rivera finally managed to get around her and launch a sprint, but she couldn’t get Winder at the line.

“I knew I could go in the straightaways and I knew that I had a couple of corners to recover in,” said Winder, who was born in England but raised in Lafayette, California. “So just go as hard as I could, breathe in the corners, and go as hard as I could.”

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Thomas sees Giro d’Italia lead cut slightly by Roglič; Buitrago wins Stage 19

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TRE CIME DI LAVAREDO, Italy — Geraint Thomas maintained his bid to become the oldest Giro d’Italia champion although his lead was cut slightly by Primož Roglič during the toughest stage of the race.

Roglič crossed the summit finish of the so-called “Queen Stage” three seconds ahead of Thomas at the end of the race’s final mountain road leg.

There were no flat sections and five tough, classified climbs on the 114-mile route from Longarone to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, which had gradients of up to 18%.

Stage 19 was won by Santiago Buitrago, who finished 51 seconds ahead of Derek Gee and 1 minute, 46 seconds ahead of Magnus Cort and Roglič, who just missed out on bonus seconds.

“I’m really happy with this victory. It was the most difficult moment of a difficult Giro for me personally,” said Buitrago, who rides for Bahrain Victorious. “I wanted to try and raise my arms before the end and coming here at Tre Cime di Lavaredo is amazing.

“This is the recompense for all the work that I’ve done. … There’s a lot of motivation for me and the whole team having seen the fruits of our labors.”

The 37-year-old Thomas, who rides for Ineos Grenadiers, is 26 seconds ahead of Roglič going into what will be a decisive penultimate stage

Third-placed João Almeida lost more time and was 59 seconds behind Thomas.

Roglič changed his bicycle shortly before the start of the penultimate climb and he made his move inside the final kilometer. However, Thomas was able to stick to his wheel and the British cyclist made his own attack in the final 500 meters and looked to have slightly distanced his rival.

But Roglič came back and gained what could be a vital few seconds.

The winner will likely be decided in the mountain time trial that ends in a demanding climb up Monte Lussari, with an elevation of over 3,000 feet and gradients of up to 22%.

“Tomorrow we go full again,” Roglič said. “It’s good. We got a bit of legs back, so tomorrow we go full, eh?

“If I wouldn’t be confident then I don’t start. The best one at the end wins.”

The race ends in a mostly ceremonial finish in Rome, where Thomas could beat the age record held by Fiorenzo Magni, who was 34 when he won in 1955.

Thomas celebrates 37th birthday by retaining Giro d’Italia lead; Roglic into 2nd

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VAL DI ZOLDO, Italy — Geraint Thomas celebrated his 37th birthday with another strong ride in the mountains to retain the pink jersey during Stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia.

Thomas crossed immediately behind Primoz Roglic, who moved up from third place to second.

“The legs have been good,” Thomas said. “Need to enjoy these moments.”

Joao Almeida dropped from second to third overall after losing 21 seconds over the 100-mile route from Oderzo to Val di Zoldo, which included two first-category climbs followed by two second-category climbs in the finale – including an uphill finish.

Thomas – the 2018 Tour de France champion – leads Roglic by 29 seconds and Almeida by 39 seconds.

“It’s a pleasant day. I take time on Almeida and didn’t get dropped by Primoz,” Thomas said. “I felt pretty good, always under control but Primoz obviously went hard. It wasn’t easy. … I just want to be consistent until the end.”

Italian champion Filippo Zanna won the stage ahead of fellow breakaway rider Thibaut Pinot in a two-man sprint.

With only two more climbing stages remaining before the mostly ceremonial finish in Rome, Thomas is poised to become the oldest Giro winner in history – beating the record of Fiorenzo Magni, who was 34 when he won in 1955.

Chris Horner holds the record for oldest Grand Tour champion, set when he won the Spanish Vuelta in 2013 at 41.

However, Thomas will still be tested over the next two days.

Stage 19 is considered perhaps the race’s toughest, a 114-mile leg from Longarone to Tre Cime Di Lavaredo featuring five major climbs. Then there’s a mountain time trial.