Evenepoel keeps Vuelta lead despite fall; Carapaz wins stage

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ESTEPONA, Spain – With bruises and cuts showing through a big gash on the side of his shorts, Remco Evenepoel got back on his bicycle and quickly rejoined the peloton.

It was just a scare for the young Belgian rider, who overcame a fall with about 45 kilometers (28 miles) to go in Stage 12 of the Spanish Vuelta to keep his overall lead entering the second half of the final Grand Tour race of the year.

Olympic champion Richard Carapaz won the stage with a dominant run on the final climb to earn his first Vuelta victory. The rider from team Ineos Grenadiers hit the handlebar of his bicycle a couple of times to celebrate his fourth Grand Tour stage win.

The 2019 Giro d’Italia champion launched his attack with about two kilometers (1.2 miles) to go to become the first Ecuadorean to win a Vuelta stage.

“We had the focus now on trying to win a stage, and I’m really happy with that,” the 29-year-old Carapaz said. “I knew I had one move left and I made the most out of it. I’m very happy. I have to enjoy it.”

Wilco Kelderman was second at the end of the stage, nine seconds behind Carapaz, and Marc Soler was third, 24 seconds off the lead.

After changing his bicycle, Evenepoel complained to race officials about some of the motorbikes that were in front of him before he crashed.

“It’s just my leg but it’s fine, I think. My bike is much worse than myself,” the 22-year-old rider from team Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl said after the race. “It was a super slippery corner. The motorbikes were slipping as well and slowing down so that’s why I wanted to cut the corner but it was a bit too much.”

Evenepoel showed no signs of being bothered by his right leg injury following the fall, and successfully fended off the breakaway attempts by his closest challenger, three-time defending champion Primoz Roglic.

“I felt good on the climb. I knew it was a climb to just follow and in the last hundreds of meters I just went all out because I felt I still had something left,” Evenepoel said. “It was a good feeling, that’s what’s important. Except for the crash, it was the scenario we wanted. Everybody was strong. Now I need to heal the wounds and try to recover tomorrow as it will be a sprint stage.”

Evenepoel maintained a lead of 2 minutes, 41 seconds over Roglic in the general classification, and was more than three minutes ahead of Enric Mas.

Evenepoel has held the leader’s red jersey since the sixth stage.

Riders will face a mostly flat Stage 13 from Ronda to Montilla in southern Spain.

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.”