Démare takes Giro Stage 4; crash blamed on helicopter gust

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VILLAFRANCA TIRRENA, Sicily — French rider Arnaud Demare won the first mass sprint of this year’s Giro d’Italia in a three-way photo finish on Tuesday, and Portuguese rider Joao Almeida added a couple of seconds to his overall lead in the fourth stage.

The finishing straight was positioned alongside the coast and Vini Zabu teammates Luca Wackermann and Etienne van Empel crashed hard when wind believed to be coming from the sea blew a barrier across the road.

Vini Zabu in a later statement said “the barriers flew across the road because of a helicopter flying too low near the riders.” The team said Wackermann had a concussion, broken nose and other injuries. Van Empel reported only cuts to his hands.

Demare finished just ahead of Peter Sagan and Davide Ballerini.

“I think it was a millimeter,” Demare said. “I had luck on my side. … I often train for the last surge behind my dad’s scooter. Today it paid off.”

Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour de France champion, withdrew from the race before the stage after fracturing his pelvis in a fall on Monday. Thomas crashed in the neutral stage before Stage 3 began after getting a water bottle caught in his front wheel.

Demare, who rides for the Groupama-FDJ team, required nearly 3+ hours to complete the 140-kilometer leg from Catania to Villafranca Tirrena, which featured one third-category climb midway along the route before a flat finish.

Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team set a blistering pace in the finale, leaving Fernando Gaviria and other top sprinters behind. Sagan, the three-time world champion who is competing in his first Giro, also finished second in Stage 2, which was won by Diego Ulissi.

It was Demare’s second career win at the Giro. He won a stage in Modena last year to go with his two stage victories at the Tour de France in 2017 and 2018.

Almeida earned a couple of bonus seconds by finishing second in an intermediate sprint. He now leads Jonathan Caicedo, the Stage 3 winner atop Mount Etna, by two seconds.

“It was a bit stressful because I had to sprint for the bonus seconds,” Almeida said. “Then I could coast to the finish.”

The race crosses over to mainland Italy for Stage 5 on Wednesday, a 225-kilometer leg from Mileto to Camigliatello in Calabria.

The Giro was rescheduled from its usual May slot because of the coronavirus pandemic. The race ends on Oct. 25 with an individual time trial in Milan.

CAS upholds Nairo Quintana DQ from Tour de France for opioid use

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland – The disqualification of two-time Tour de France runner-up Nairo Quintana from his sixth place in the 2022 race for misuse of an opioid was confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

CAS said its judges dismissed Quintana’s appeal and agreed with the International Cycling Union that the case was a medical matter rather than a doping rules violation. He will not be banned.

The court said the judges ruled “the UCI’s in-competition ban on tramadol was for medical rather than doping reasons and was therefore within the UCI’s power and jurisdiction.”

Traces of the synthetic painkiller tramadol were found in two dried blood spot samples taken from the Colombian racer five days apart in July, the UCI previously said.

Quintana’s case is among the first to rely on the dried blood spot (DBS) method of collecting samples which the World Anti-Doping Agency approved last year.

Tramadol was banned in 2019 from use at cycling races because of potential side effects. They include the risk of addiction, dizziness, drowsiness and loss of attention.

Quintana finished second in the Tour de France in 2013 and 2015, won both times by Chris Froome. He won the 2014 Giro d’Italia.

Filippo Ganna breaks cycling’s hour world record

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GRENCHEN, Switzerland — Time trial specialist Filippo Ganna broke cycling’s hour record when he covered 56.792 kilometers in 60 minutes.

The Italian extended the record by more than 1.2 kilometers, the biggest jump in seven years.

Asked to describe the pain of the last five minutes, he said, “I lost energy to try to go for 57, but nothing (in the legs).”

He said he was open to another attempt at a different time of the season, when he was fresher.

Ganna took the record from British teammate Dan Bigham, who made his mark at the same Swiss velodrome on Aug. 19.