Hirt claims 1st grand tour stage, Carapaz keeps Giro d’Italia lead

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APRICA, Italy — Czech cyclist Jan Hirt won the tough Stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia for his first grand tour victory and Richard Carapaz kept the pink jersey as the race headed into a final week in the high mountains.

Hirt clutched his head almost in disbelief before raising his hands into the air as he crossed the line at the end of the 202-kilometer (126-mile) route from Salo to Aprica, which included one of the sport’s toughest climbs up the Mortirolo.

“Every time someone asks me why I do cycling, what I want to achieve, I thought I want to win one stage on the Giro and then I can stop my career,” Hirt said with a laugh. “So now I’m happy, but I don’t want to stop.”

The leg also included two other top-classified ascents as more than 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) of climbing was packed into an epic stage. It was also the race’s annual wine stage and was dedicated to the Sforzato variety of the Valtellina area.

Hirt attacked near the top of the Santa Cristina climb, with double-digit gradients, and although he almost lost control on a descent made treacherous by earlier rain, the 31-year-old managed to stay on his bicycle and finished seven seconds ahead of Thymen Arensman.

“I wanted to try to do something nice today,” Hirt said. “I had quite difficult moments …. then in the end on the last climb I had also a problem with my bike, it was not shifting properly and the chain was jumping and also I had cramps on the downhill, so I was really suffering and I had all these problems, but I wanted to win so much so I fight until the end.”

There was a fight for third place and the final bonus seconds between the overall favorites, with Jai Hindley edging out Carapaz and Mikel Landa. The quartet – which also included Alejandro Valverde — crossed 1 minute, 24 seconds behind Hirt.

Hindley, who was runner-up in 2020, reduced the gap to Carapaz to three seconds. Joao Almeida remained third overall but lost 14 seconds and is now 0:44 behind the Ecuadorian cyclist.

“It was a tough stage and in the end I have to say I am happy,” Carapaz said. “I thought I was going to win the sprint for third place. I eventually didn’t but it’s still a good day for me.

“I’ve lost a few seconds on Hindley but I gained more on Almeida so the balance is positive.”

Landa was fourth, while two-time Giro winner Vincenzo Nibali moved into fifth after an attack from the peloton on the descent of the Passo Mortirolo. Although he was caught by his rivals, the form he showed hinted that there is more to come for the Italian cyclist in his last Giro.

Stage 17 has almost 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) of climbing along the 168-kilometer route from Ponte di Legno to Lavarone.

Primoz Roglic triumphs at Tirreno-Adriatico for winning return from injury

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SAN BENEDETTO DEL TRONTO, Italy — Primož Roglič made a winning return to cycling as he triumphed at the week-long Tirreno-Adriatico for a fourth Slovenian victory in five editions at “The Race of the Two Seas.”

It was Roglič’s first race of the season after the Jumbo-Visma rider underwent shoulder surgery last year.

“It’s just nice to come back to racing this way. I really enjoyed the whole week,” Roglič said. “My teammates were super strong.

“One week ago I was just expecting to suffer. It’s even better to win when it’s unexpected. It feels good ahead of the Giro d’Italia too.”

After winning the previous three stages to build up a significant advantage, Roglič protected his lead and finished safely in the peloton during Stage 7 to end the week-long race 18 seconds ahead of João Almeida of Portugal and 23 seconds ahead of British cyclist Tao Geoghegan Hart.

Roglič won the Tirreno in 2019. Fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogačar won the two previous editions but the two-time defending champion was competing at the Paris-Nice race which he won.

Belgian cyclist Jasper Philipsen won a bunch sprint to take the stage win. The Alpecin-Deceuninck rider edged out Dylan Groenewegen and Alberto Dainese.

It was Philipsen’s second sprint victory at this year’s Tirreno, setting him up as one of the favorites for next weekend’s Milan-San Remo race.

“I was dying in the end, my legs felt really painful, but I’m happy that I could keep it to the finish,” Philipsen said.

“The sprint stage is always different from a classic like San Remo but of course we have some confidence. We have a strong team I think. So now it’s good to take some time off, recover a little bit and try to be on top level.”

There was an early breakaway in the 154-kilometer (96-mile) route that started and finished in San Benedetto del Tronto but the eight riders were caught with just over 3 kilometers (2 miles) remaining.

Pogacar tops Gaudu, Vingegaard to win Paris-Nice


NICE, France — An impressive Tadej Pogacar clinched the final stage with a solo escape to win the week-long Paris-Nice.

David Gaudu finished second overall, 53 seconds behind Pogacar, while Jonas Vingegaard was third at 1 minute, 39 seconds back.

Pogacar attacked during the climb of Col d’Eze with 18 kilometers (11.2 miles) to go, finishing the eighth stage 33 seconds ahead of a small group made up of Vingegaard, Gaudu, Simon Yates and Matteo Jorgenson.

The Slovenian rider completed the 118-kilometer trek around Nice in 2 hours, 51 minutes, 2 seconds, crossing the finish line with both arms raised before taking a bow in front of the crowd and clapping his hands.

Pogacar now has a slight mental edge over Vingegaard, also outclassing him last October to win the Tour of Lombardy.

The duel between Pogacar and Vingegaard has become one of the biggest rivalries in cycling. Vingegaard finished second behind Pogacar in the 2021 Tour de France. But the Danish rider managed to beat Pogacar in the 2022 Tour de France for his first major title.

Vingegaard still has time to hit peak form. The Tour de France starts July 1.

Pogacar is the current leader in the UCI men’s road racing world rankings.

Pogacar and Vingegaard both started the season well. Last month in Spain, Pogacar won the Tour of Andalucia while Vingegaard won the O Gran Camino. Pogacar took the yellow jersey by winning the fourth stage. He dumped Vingegaard in the climb of La Loge des Gardes. Only Gaudu could stay on Pogacar’s wheel.

The two-time Tour de France winner extended his overall lead by taking Stage 7, beating Gaudu and Vingegaard in a small sprint atop Col de la Couillole.

French rider Gaudu finished fourth overall in the 2022 Tour de France but failed to finish in the past two editions of Paris-Nice.

The next race on the UCI World Tour is the Milan-San Remo classic on March 18.