Pogacar, Vollering win Flèche Wallonne, aim for Ardennes hat trick


HUY, Belgium — Nothing can stop Tadej Pogacar right now, not even one of the toughest climbs in cycling.

The two-time Tour de France champion earned his third one-day classic victory of the season season by triumphing at the top of the Mur de Huy for the first time to claim the Flèche Wallonne race, and add another trophy to his already storied career.

The 24-year-old has been untouchable on all grounds this year, dominating the field at the Tour of Flanders and then the Amstel Gold Race last weekend. His performance in the small Belgian town along the river Meuse marked his sixth race victory of 2023 – to go with six stage wins at the weeklong Paris-Nice and Tour of Andalucia races – a streak that is drawing comparisons with cycling great Eddy Merckx.

In the women’s race, Demi Vollering was also in a class of her own in the final grueling ascent leading to the finish as she dropped all her rivals to secure a second one-day classic victory in the space of four days.

The 26-year-old Dutch rider accelerated at the foot of the Mur de Huy – a 1.3-kilometer (0.8-mile) ascent with an average gradient of 9.6% with sections as steep as 19% that decides the outcome of the race. She moved away from the leading pack to follow up her victory at Amstel Gold Race last weekend with another big win.

Both Pogacar and Vollering will aim for a triple of the Ardennes races this weekend at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, an even more prestigious classic they already won two years ago.

Pogacar will be up against defending champion Remco Evenepoel, who is also the reigning world champion. Only the late Davide Rebellin and Philippe Gilbert have managed to win the Amstel, the Flèche and Liège in succession during the same season.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège is one of the “monuments” of cycling – the five most prestigious one-day events in the sport – along with the Tour of Flanders, Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Lombardy.

The battle between the male main contenders really kicked off once the last breakaway rider, Louis Vervaeke, was caught by the peloton with one kilometer left. Michael Woods, Pogacar and Tom Pidcok rode at the front at a fast tempo until Frenchman Romain Bardet attacked with 250 meters left.

Pogacar had no problem countering the move, rising up out of his saddle in a final effort to easily drop his rivals. Mattias Skjelmose finished second ahead of Mikel Landa.

“I left it all on the climb, it was super hard,” Pogacar said. “It gives me a lot of boost when the team does such an amazing job. … I needed to pull it off otherwise all the work was for nothing.”

Vollering’s burst of power left everyone else in her wake. Kasia Niewiadoma tried hard to stay on the Dutchwoman’s wheel but got dropped close to the top as Liane Lippert produced a late effort to secure a runner-up finish, five seconds behind. Gaia Realini was third, seven seconds off the pace.

Vollering, who attacked again to keep Lippert at bay, was in tears after she crossed the finish as she thanked her SD Worx teammates via the team’s radio.

“I just went at my own pace and I couldn’t believe there was a gap,” Vollering said. “I saw it very late and the gap was pretty big and I was really surprised by that, so I’m really happy.”

Thomas sees Giro d’Italia lead cut slightly by Roglič; Buitrago wins Stage 19

Getty Images

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

Getty Images

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.