Ulissi outsprints Sagan in Stage 2 of Giro d’Italia

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AGRIGENTO, Sicily — For his seventh career stage win in the Giro d’Italia, Diego Ulissi beat the best in the business in a finish tailor-made for three-time world champion Peter Sagan.

Helped by a perfect setup from UAE-Team Emirates teammate Valerio Conti, Ulissi outsprinted Sagan on the short, final climb to win Stage 2 alongside Agrigento’s spectacularly intact ancient Greek temples on Sunday.

“I noticed that we were climbing too slowly so I told Conti to accelerate and try to make it tough to tire out the sprinters,” Ulissi said. “We were perfect. When you’re able to beat the strongest riders it’s really extraordinary.”

Crossing the finish line with his arms raised several bike lengths ahead of Sagan, Ulissi completed the 149-kilometer (93-mile) leg from Alcamo in under 3 + hours.

Filippo Ganna held onto the pink jersey he grabbed by winning the opening time trial in Palermo.

Danish rider Mikkel Frolich Honore crossed third with the same time as Ulissi and Sagan, while Ganna and the other overall favorites finished in the main pack five seconds behind.

Ganna remained 22 seconds ahead of Joao Almeida, while Geraint Thomas – the 2018 Tour de France champion – moved up from fourth to third, 23 seconds behind.

The final 4 kilometers were uphill at an average gradient of 5% with one short stretch at 9% placed 2.5 kilometers from the finish.

An early breakaway of five riders gained an advantage of nearly five minutes on the main pack, with breakaway rider Thomas De Gendt winning all three of the intermediate sprints.

Ganna’s and Thomas’ Ineos Grenadiers team led the chase and caught the breakaway with just under 10 kilometers to go.

The victory was extra sweet for Ulissi, who began the season stuck in quarantine in Abu Dhabi when his second daughter was born in March.

Aleksandr Vlasov of the Astana team withdrew midway through the stage due to stomach sickness. Vlasov had been seen as a possible overall contender behind Astana captain Jakob Fuglsang, who struggled in the opening time trial.

It’s been a rough start for Astana, which also had Miguel Angel Lopez crash out during the time trial.

The race should heat up Monday when Stage 3 takes the peloton up the Mount Etna volcano after a 150-kilometer route from Enna.

“Tomorrow I’ll work to help Thomas,” Ganna said.

Then there’s one more stage in Sicily on Tuesday before the race moves over to mainland Italy.

The Giro was originally scheduled to start with three stages in Hungary and run from May 9-31, but it was postponed and revised because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The race ends on Oct. 25 with an individual time trial in Milan.

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.”