Cavendish wins Stage 3 to mark Giro d’Italia return, Van der Poel keeps lead

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BALATONFURED, Hungary — Mark Cavendish marked his return to the Giro d’Italia by winning a bunch sprint at the end of Stage 3 while Mathieu van der Poel kept hold of the pink jersey.

Cavendish, who rides for Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, raised his arms over his head and beamed broadly after crossing the line just ahead of Arnaud Demare and Fernando Gaviria.

It was a 16th stage win in the Giro for the 36-year-old Cavendish, who hasn’t ridden the Italian race in nine years.

It was also a 53rd win in the three grand tours for the sprint superstar from the Isle of Man, inching him closer to Mario Cipollini, who is second in the table of stage winners on 57. Eddy Merckx won 64 stages.

“I just want to carry on winning, it doesn’t matter how many, I just love racing my bike, I love being with my mates and I’d like to win some more,” said Cavendish, who turns 37 during the Giro.

There was little change in the overall standings at the end of the flat 201-kilometer (125-mile) route along Lake Balaton from Kaposvar to Balatonfured. Most of the general classification contenders crossed the line with the same time after a slow and unremarkable day in the saddle.

Dutch cyclist Van der Poel remained 11 seconds ahead of Simon Yates and 16 ahead of 2017 Giro winner Tom Dumoulin.

It was the last of three stages in Hungary and the race has its first rest day on Monday as the riders transfer to the Italian island of Sicily.

“We did a very nice job as a team,” Van der Poel said. “We knew Cavendish was one of the favorites for today. After the Tour de France last year I think we all know he can win stages again.

“I’m happy to bring the maglia rosa to Italy. It’s been an amazing past few days here in Hungary and I’m going to enjoy it in Italy as well.”

Three riders escaped shortly after the start. Italians Mattia Bias, Filippo Tagliani and Samuele Rivi easily built a lead and their advantage hovered around the three-minute mark for most of the day.

They were caught with a little under 30 kilometers (19 miles) remaining as the teams in the peloton began setting up their riders for the sprint.

With the main contenders jostling for position, Cavendish had to launch his sprint early but “The Manx Missile” managed to hold off his rivals.

“I’m very happy. It’s nice to win. I wanted to do good in the first sprint,” Cavendish said. “I have an incredible group, I’ve said that before the race, and they delivered today.

“I had to go long, I had to go with 300 to go. I’m happy I could hang on that long for the win.”

The riders face their first serious test as Stage 4 culminates in a category-one climb up Mount Etna after a 172-kilometer (107-mile) route from Avola.

The Giro finishes on May 29 in Verona.

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.”