Evenepoel tames tough final climb, increases Vuelta lead

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NAVA, Spain – Remco Evenepoel dropped his main challengers on the grueling final ascent in Les Praeres to increase his overall lead in the Spanish Vuelta.

South African Louis Meintjes won Stage 9, crossing the line more than a minute ahead of Samuele Battistella, Edoardo Zambanini and Evenepoel.

Evenepoel launched his attack about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the summit to overpower his rivals and extend his lead ahead of Monday’s rest day and Tuesday’s time trial in Alicante.

The Belgian rider from team Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl increased the gap to Enric Mas from 28 seconds to 72 seconds overall. His advantage over defending champion Primoz Roglic went up by more than 50 seconds and was at nearly two minutes.

Roglic, seeking an unprecedented fourth straight Vuelta title, was only 10th in Sunday’s stage, crossing the line 2:26 behind Meintjes.

Evenepoel got the help he needed from his team despite the surprise absence of Pieter Serry, who had to withdraw before the stage after testing positive for the coronavirus.

“I’m really impressed by my team,” Evenepoel said. “I’m so happy with the guys, it actually makes me a bit emotional seeing these guys working their hearts out for me. In a climb like this, it’s all about the power, there’s no drafting or anything because it’s too steep.”

Meintjes became the second South African stage winner in the Vuelta since Robbie Hunter in 1999 and 2001.

“It’s something special,” the 30-year-old Meintjes said. “I’ve never been on the podium of a World Tour race except for a team classification so that was one of my main goals before stopping my career. The last few days, I was just not quite fast enough in the mountain finishes. If I can’t (get) a result that way, the best was to go in the breakaway and it worked out perfectly.”

Meintjes moved to 16th in the general classification, nearly seven minutes off the lead.

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.”