Evenepoel safely keeps Vuelta lead as Groves wins 11th stage


ALMERIA, Spain — Remco Evenepoel safely kept the overall lead at the Spanish Vuelta, while Kaden Groves prevailed in the final sprint to win his first Grand Tour stage after more riders had to withdraw because of positive coronavirus tests.

Simon Yates, Groves’ teammate at BikeExchange-Jayco, was among those who had to leave the race because of the coronavirus. The 2018 Vuelta champion was fifth in the general classification. Pavel Sivakov, who was ninth, also had to withdraw.

“This morning, with the news of Simon being positive for COVID, all the boys were pretty disappointed, and this is the best way to bounce back after such bad news,” the 23-year-old Groves said. “I really have to celebrate but I also wish he was here because he’s part of this team.”

The Australian crossed the line ahead of Danny van Poppel and Tim Merlier to take the victory in Stage 11.

“I have to thank all the guys, we’ve been riding all day and we set up early for this win,” Groves said. “With crosswind in the last four kilometers, the guys did a perfect job to put me in the front fresh. Being my first Grand Tour win, it sure takes the cake.”

Evenepoel finished in the peloton along with three-time defending champion Primoz Roglic, who stayed at 2 minutes, 41 seconds off the lead with 10 stages left. Enric Mas remained more than three minutes behind Evenepoel in third place.

Evenepoel had increased his lead with a strong time trial on Tuesday. The 22-year-old Belgian from team Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl has held the leader’s red jersey since the sixth stage.

Evenepoel lost an important teammate on Wednesday, though, as world champion Julian Alaphilippe had to withdraw from the race after a crash. Alaphilippe had to be taken into an ambulance with a dislocated right shoulder. The team said there was no fracture.

“It’s definitely not a beautiful day like we hoped for,” Evenepoel said. “It’s definitely a big loss for our team, especially on a quiet stage. It’s quite a pity. I hope he does well and he’s not suffering too much. Julian was doing really well in a lot of stages. It’s a pity that we lose the world champion because he was in a really good shape. I have confidence in my other teammates also and I’m sure they will do very well in the coming stages.”

Riders in Stage 12 will face a long flat stage with an uphill finale in Estepona.

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.