Evenepoel keeps Liège title, Vollering gets Ardennes triple


LIEGE, Belgium — World champion Remco Evenepoel put on an impressive attacking display to win Liège–Bastogne–Liège for the second year in a row with a solo effort as his main rival Tadej Pogacar crashed out of cycling’s oldest classic with a fractured wrist.

Back to racing after three-weeks of altitude training, Evenepoel was the strongest in the tough rainy conditions to remain unbeaten in the prestigious hilly event. The versatile Belgian had triumphed at “La Doyenne” at his first attempt last year.

“It’s amazing, it was a super tough race,” the 23-year-old Evenepoel said. “I’m just so happy to take two out of two here in Liege.”

Earlier, Demi Vollering completed a prestigious hat trick of wins in the Ardennes classics as she claimed victory in the women’s race. The 26-year-old Dutch rider also triumphed in the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne this year, following in the footsteps of her sports director at the SD Worx team, Anna van der Breggen, who also achieved the feat in 2017.

Following a terrific start to the season, two-time Tour de France champion Pogacar also aimed for the rare triple but had to abandon the race after 85 kilometers (53 miles) because of his crash. Pogacar’s UAE Team Emirates said he suffered fractured bones in his left wrist requiring surgery.

Team doctor Adrian Rotunno said Pogacar broke “his left scaphoid and lunate bones. The scaphoid will require surgery which he will undergo this afternoon with a specialist hand surgeon here in Genk.”

It was unclear whether the injury would prevent Pogacar from taking part in the Tour de France, which starts July 1.

“I send him all my support, all my strength. I hope he is well,” said Evenepoel, who rides for Soudal Quick-Step. “It’s a shame he couldn’t finish the race, but that’s part of the competition. Anyone can fall, I’ve experienced that too.”

Evenepoel’s career was put on hold for several months following a crash at the 2020 Tour of Lombardy that left him with a fractured pelvis and a damaged right lung. He recovered well from the accident and became world champion last year.

Without Pogacar to derail his plans in the finale, Evenepoel attacked 33.5 kilometers from the finish line, once the last breakaway riders were caught. In the steepest part of the Cote de La Redoute, only Tom Pidcock was able to follow.

Evenepoel made the most of another climb to try another move with 30 kilometers left when he noticed that Pidcock was struggling, and this time the British rider could not hang on to his wheel.

“With the new climb, after La Redoute, I knew I had to go all out to drop everyone,” Evenepoel said. That’s where I made the most difference, I think.”

Using his strong time-trial skills, Evenepoel then produced an impressive solo effort through roads lined with fans shouting his name and lighting flares. As he approached the finish, Evenepoel gestured to urge the fans to make more noise and crossed the line with his arms wide open.

Chasers crossed more than one minute behind, with Pidcock securing a second-place finish in a sprint ahead of Santiago Buitrago.

Evenepoel came to prominence during his first pro season with the Deceuninck-Quick Step team in 2019 when he won the prestigious Clasica San Sebastian ahead of Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet. He also secured a silver medal in the time trial at the world championships that year.

He will now turn his focus to the Giro d’Italia next month, where he will be among the main contenders.

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.

Vollering outsprinted Elisa Longo Borghini to win the hilly 142.8-kilometer race for the second time in her career and claim a fifth win this season. Vollering’s teammate Marlen Reusser was third, 22 seconds off the pace.

Longo Borghini and Vollering attacked from a reduced group of riders in the final ascent of the day and built a 23-second lead coming into the last five kilometers. Longo Borghini launched the final sprint 150 meters from the finish line but Vollering’s raw power was too much for her to handle.

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.