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.

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.