Denz claims first Grand Tours stage win, Thomas stays in Giro d’Italia lead

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RIVOLI, Italy — Nico Denz won Stage 12 of the Giro d’Italia for his first victory in a Grand Tour, while Geraint Thomas kept hold of the pink jersey as the race prepares to head into the mountains.

Denz, who rides for Bora-Hansgrohe, beat Toms Skujiņš and Sebastian Berwick at the end of the 115-mile hill leg from Bra to Rivoli in the Piedmont region.

The first stage win for Denz in his sixth Giro prompted the German to yell in joy after crossing the line and put his hands on his head as his eyes appeared to tear up.

All three riders were in a large breakaway that had to battle to escape at the beginning of the day.

The trio pulled away from its fellow escapees and had an advantage of more than eight minutes on the general classification group on the toughest part of the stage, a second-category climb 20 miles from the finish.

“The breakaway was definitely hard to get in, and then the hardest moment for me was the last climb, I was suffering so much and I barely made it over the top,” Denz said. “But getting there was also not so easy.

“When I made it over the last climb … I used the downhill to recover. And on the bottom, I started to think, ‘yeah, I can make this actually.’ And then they didn’t attack me, so I just threw everything in and yeah, from there on I thought, ‘I can maybe do this.’”

The rest of the breakaway rolled across the line two minutes, 20 seconds behind, around six minutes ahead of the GC contenders.

Thomas remained two seconds ahead of Primož Roglič and 22 ahead of João Almeida.

There was a minute of silence before the start to honor those affected by the flooding in Emilia-Romagna.

It was a quieter day in the peloton after an eventful few days which saw pre-race favorite Remco Evenepeol withdraw after testing positive for the coronavirus and Tao Geoghegan Hart leave the race on a stretcher after a crash.

Geoghegan Hart had been third in the overall standings, five seconds behind his Ineos Grenadiers teammate Thomas.

“It definitely changes how we race,” Thomas said. “When we had myself and him up there, that gave us two good options. Obviously, he’s not here anymore, so it’s a massive blow to the team. And he was going really well.

“But we’ve still got a good, strong unit here and we’ve had great morale from the start here, and hopefully we can just continue that.”

The majority of the riders would have been saving their legs ahead of the mighty mountains.

Stage 13 has three top-category climbs on the 124-mile route from Borgofranco d’Ivrea to the summit finish at Crans-Montana. It will be an exceptionally tough day even though the route has been altered and the race will not go over the top of the Passo del Gran San Bernardo because of snowfall and a risk of avalanches, but through a tunnel.

The stage will be expected to shake up the overall standings. And a good performance from Thomas could set him up to become the oldest Giro winner when the race ends in Roma on May 28, three days after the British cyclist turns 37.

Fiorenzo Magni was 34 when he won the Giro in 1955.

“We’ve still got five mountain top finishes to do, we haven’t even raced up one yet,” Thomas said. “So we’re not counting our chickens, we’re just taking every day as it comes and a big big day tomorrow.”

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.