Tadej Pogačar wins Strade Bianche with long-distance attack

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SIENA, Italy — Two-time Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar displayed his dominance with an unprecedented long-distance solo attack to win the Strade Bianche.

It was a different story in the women’s race, with Belgian champion Lotte Kopecky holding off two-time champion Annemiek van Vleuten in a two-woman sprint.

Pogačar attacked with 50 kilometers (31 miles) to go in the 184-kilometer (114-mile) race through Tuscany on the eighth of 11 sections of white, gravel roads. The Slovenian with UAE Team Emirates quickly opened up an advantage of more than a minute and finished 37 seconds ahead of 41-year-old Alejandro Valverde and 46 seconds ahead of Kasper Asgreen of Denmark.

“I didn’t really plan my attack but Monte Sante Maria is always the most important point of the race,” Pogačar said. “I expected riders to come along but nobody did so I had no choice other than to commit 100% to reaching the finishing line solo.”

In the 16-year history of the race, nobody had come close to pulling off an attack so far from the finish. The next longest successful attack was made by 2007 champion Alexandr Kolobnev, who made his move 19 kilometers (12 miles) from the finish in 2007 – the first year the race was held.

Making matters more impressive was that Pogačar was involved in a mass crash early in the race. He came away with some scrapes and a mangled handlebar, forcing him to change bikes.

“I suffered a lot in the last 40 to 50 kilometers,” Pogačar said. “There were moments in which I was thinking that my legs would explode and I’d walk to the finish. I had no time for sightseeing for sure. I won because I had no pressure from my team for this race and I don’t really care about the pressure from the outside world.”

Valverde also came back from a crash.

“Second behind Pogacar, it’s like a victory,” said the Spanish veteran, the world champion in 2018.

Two-time reigning world champion Julian Alaphilippe was dropped toward the end after also getting banged up in a fall — which opened the way for Quick-Step teammate Asgreen to aim for the podium.

Earlier, Kopecky held off the more experienced Van Vleuten on the super steep final climb to Siena’s Piazza del Campo then darted to the line. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, a teammate of Kopecky on the Sd Worx squad, finished third, 10 seconds behind.

“I was quite confident before the race that I could do this on the final climb. It’s explosive and it suits me,” Kopecky said. “When Annemiek couldn’t drop me, it was very good for my confidence. … It was just one sprint to the corner. I wasn’t going to brake.”

Next up for Pogačar is defending his title in the weeklong Tirreno-Adriatico.

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.”