Bardet wins Vuelta’s 14th stage, Eiking limits the damage


PICO VILLUERCAS, Spain – Four years later, Romain Bardet can again savor a win at a Grand Tour.

The 30-year-old rider ended his wait on Saturday when he won the mountainous 14th stage of the Spanish Vuelta.

Previously seen as one of France’s best bets to win the Tour de France, Bardet finished the 2016 Tour runner-up and was third in the great race in 2017 – the same year he won his last of three stages at the Tour.

Since then, he had not won a stage at a major race, while again coming so close at the 2018 World Championships when he finished second behind Alejandro Valverde.

“We try to do our best every day and this stage win is an amazing one. It’s been a long wait,” Bardet said. “I didn’t think about it today, I just focused on giving it my all. It went well from the start.”

The DSM leader won the 165.7-kilometer (103-mile) stage in western Spain in 4 hours, 20 minutes, 36 seconds after he dropped the last of his companions in a breakaway on the day’s third climb to the finish, atop the category-one Pico Villuercas.

Back in the peloton, surprise leader Odd Christian Eiking did well to limit the damage to his overall advantage with one week remaining.

Eiking, a Norwegian rider for Intermarche-Wanty, ensured that he will wear the red jersey for a fifth consecutive day after clinging to the tail end of the group of the hardiest general classification riders as the pace picked up on the final ascent.

Eiking said before Saturday’s stage that if two-time defending champion Primoz Roglic wanted to go on the attack, he would likely have a hard time holding him off.

Roglic ceded the race lead on Stage 10 when he fell, losing time to riders in a breakaway group that included Eiking.

But Eiking’s rivals did not take advantage of difficult hilly terrain prior to Saturday’s final ascent. And when Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma, Enric Mas’ Movistar and Guillaume Martin’s Cofidis all took turns attacking over the final uphill kilometers, Eiking was not to be broken.

Roglic could only carve 20 seconds from Eiking’s lead and remained third overall at 1 minute, 36 seconds behind.

Martin is second at :54 back; Mas fourth at 2:11.

“I felt it was under control most of the day and I hoped it wouldn’t be too hard in the final climb,” Eiking said. “It wasn’t too steep, so I gambled, trying to stay as much as possible on the wheels.”

Eiking felt confident that he could keep the race lead on Sunday, when riders face 197.5 kilometers (122.7 miles) and four climbs between Navalmoral de la Mata and El Barraco.

“My legs feel quite good,” he said.

The breakaway group of 18 riders, none in contention for the overall lead, opened up a large gap over the peloton early on.

Nicolas Prodhomme led the race by a minute as he started the final 14-kilometer (8.6-mile) climb. But he quickly lost the advantage. Bardet powered past him and fellow pursuer Andrey Zeits with 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) left.

Bardet crossed the finish line 44 seconds ahead of Jesus Herrada. Jay Vine was third after he recovered from a nasty fall while he was receiving assistance from a car.

“No one wanted to commit in the breakaway, so I had a really hard time to catch the riders at the front,” Bardet said. “But at the end I think we played it smartly with my sports director, who told me exactly when to attack, at the steepest part.”

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.