Bardet pulls out of Giro d’Italia, Démare claims third win

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CUNEO, Italy — Romain Bardet pulled out of the Giro d’Italia due to a stomach bug before French cyclist Arnaud Démare claimed his third victory in this year’s race.

Bardet, who was among the overall title favorites and lying fourth overall, climbed off his bike about a third of the way into Stage 13 and got into a Team DSM car. Shortly afterward, the team confirmed his abandonment.

Bardet suffered from a stomach bug the previous day and was seen holding his stomach in pain at the beginning of Friday’s stage in San Remo.

He was only 14 seconds behind leader Juan Pedro López overall, and was expected to be the main challenger to favorite Richard Carapaz. Bardet had been in great form, finishing first in the Tour of the Alps last month and almost winning atop the Blockhaus on the Giro ninth stage on Sunday.

“He slept the whole way back in the bus after the race. He didn’t eat last night, he couldn’t eat anything. He was awake all night being sick,” Team DSM coach Matt Winston said.

“This morning there was a small chance he could finish today but Romain’s a fighter. He wanted to start the stage, he wanted to go for it. But he was already being sick in the neutral and it just wasn’t possible to continue.”

The 150-kilometer (93-mile) stage to Cuneo was expected to be a final one for the sprinters but for a long time it appeared as if it was going to be won from a breakaway. However, the sprinters’ teams worked hard to drive the peloton and the four escapees were swallowed up with just 700 meters to go.

That set up the final sprint, and Démare managed to head off Phil Bauhaus and Mark Cavendish.

“When I got here I was saying it would be nice to win one … I’m really happy,” said Démare, who rides for Groupama–FDJ. “It was an incredible day. They really resisted at the front.

“We were really riding hard and with 10 kilometers to go I started to think about the sprint because we knew we’d get them by then and the guys did a great job. It was monstrous actually the leadout … and I did a big strong sprint.”

The breakaway got away early in the stage and the four escapees built a lead of more than six minutes at the summit of the Colle di Nava, the only classified climb of the day — a steep, third-category ascent in the first half of the route.

It appeared as if the peloton let the breakaway gain too much time on the climb as the quartet worked well together to keep the pack distanced, but it was to end in heartbreak for the four riders, each of whom was looking for a first grand tour stage win.

López maintained his 12-second lead over Carapaz and João Almeida, and will wear the pink jersey for a 10th day on Saturday’s 14th stage. It is the shortest one of the race at just 147 kilometers (91 miles) but includes two ascents of the Maddalena and the Superga hill in a challenging two-lap circuit in the second half of the undulating route from Santena to Torino.

“I need to enjoy, like, every day,” López said. “For sure, some guys will try to make a difference but I will try to do my 100%.”

The Giro finishes in nine days in Verona.

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.