Emotional win for Herrada as Evenepoel keeps Vuelta lead

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CISTIERNA, Spain – Jesus Herrada placed his head on his bicycle’s handlebar and cried profusely after winning Stage 7 at the Spanish Vuelta.

Herrada was hugged by a team member and sat by his bike and put both of his hands in front of his face.

He was still wiping away tears when other riders arrived to congratulate him.

It took the 32-year-old Spaniard a few minutes to fully compose himself after the victory in the Vuelta’s seventh stage.

Remco Evenepoel stayed safely in the peloton to hold on to the overall lead ahead of Rudy Molard, Enric Mas and three-time defending champion Primoz Roglic.

Herrada prevailed in the breakaway group to win his second ever stage in the Vuelta, and first in three years. The Cofidis rider narrowly edged Samuele Battistella and Fred Wright after a 190-kilometer (118-mile) mid-mountain stage in northern Spain.

“It’s crazy,” Herrada said. “I had to be patient in the last kilometer, following wheels. I knew there were fast men in the group but I trusted my sprint. We’ll savor this win.”

It was the second stage win for a Spaniard in three days after the nation went two years without a win at a Grand Tour race. Marc Soler won the fifth stage on Wednesday to end Spain’s winless streak.

The peloton was closing in on the five breakaway riders who also included Jimmy Janssens and Harrison Sweeny, but not soon enough.

Evenepoel was among those crossing the line 29 seconds later to keep his overall 21-second lead over Molard and 28-second lead over Mas. Roglic stayed fourth in the general classification, about a minute behind.

“It’s a pity for the teams working in the bunch not to catch the breakaway, but there was a really strong group in the front,” said Evenepoel, of team Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl. “I have a nice advantage now, so I would also be happy if I could just keep this time gap over the rest, but of course, if there’s an opportunity, I will not let it go. It’s a three-week race, and arriving to the time trial with an advantage will be better than being behind.”

Evenepoel is only the second Belgian rider to retain the leader’s red jersey for more than a day in the Vuelta in the last 40 years, after Philippe Gilbert did it in 2010.

Riders will face a difficult mountain stage in Asturias on Saturday.

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.”