Koretzky, Lecomte give France sweep of mountain bike World Cup opener

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ALBSTADT, Germany — Victor Koretzky and Loana Lecomte gave France a sweep of the first men’s and women’s World Cup mountain bike races of the season, giving them a big boost of confidence heading toward the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Koretzky broke free of a group of four riders on the final lap of the course in Albstadt, finally passing reigning Olympic gold medalist Nino Schurter on the final turns before the cross country race hit the road. Then, the Frenchman used a superior finishing sprint to hold off the Swiss mountain biking star for the win.

“In the warmup I didn’t feel like I was in my best shape,” Koretzky said, “but after the first two laps it got better and better.”

Mathias Flueckiger of Switzerland and Ondrej Cink of the Czech Republic were the other two riders in the four-man break, but Flueckiger had a mechanical problem on the penultimate lap that forced him to remain standing. He wound up taking the bronze medal ahead of Cink, who faded over the final mile of the race.

“This was really hard, and all I could do was fight for third place,” Flueckiger said. “Bad luck happens some times, so I’m very happy to get third place in this situation.”

Thomas Pidcock and Mathieu van der Poel, who won the short course race, pushed the tempo on the opening laps before falling off the pace and finishing in the top 10. But it was still a strong ride for the British and Dutch riders, who often compete in cyclocross and road racing but have their eyes on mountain biking at the Tokyo Games.

The women’s race wasn’t nearly as close as the sprint to the finish in the men’s race.

Lecomte surged away from the entire field on the opening loop, quickly opening up an 18-second gap before the first of the two major climbs on each lap. She eventually built her lead to more than a minute before cruising to the finish.

Her countrywoman and the reigning world champ, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, finished second to cap a banner day for the French mountain bike team. Ferrand-Prevot won the short course race on Friday night.

“It was my goal for today,” Lecomte said, “but I didn’t know if I could do it.”

Haley Batten edged American teammate Kate Courtney to round out the podium in Germany.

After dealing with the difficult, climb-heavy course in Albstadt, riders head to Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, next weekend for the second race on the World Cup circuit. It’s also the last race before a long break over the summer, which means it’s also the last qualification race for riders trying to earn a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

“To start the season like this is pretty incredible,” Batten said. “I’ve had a couple of hard races here in the past, in junior and U-23, so to just race so strong and so smooth from start to finish is not something I would have expected previously. I’m not sure how much this counts towards Olympic criteria, but Nove Mesto does, so this is a really good sign.”

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.