Rubio wins much-altered Stage 13, Thomas stays in Giro d’Italia lead

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CRANS-MONTANA, Switzerland — Einer Rubio won a shortened and weather-affected Stage 13 of the Giro d’Italia for his first victory in a Grand Tour while Geraint Thomas remained in the pink jersey.

Rubio, who rides for Movistar, had time to raise an arm above his head and point to the sky as he crossed the line just ahead of fellow escapees Thibaut Pinot and Jefferson Alexander Cepeda. They sprinted for victory after a tough climb to the summit finish at Crans-Montana.

“A big day that I was looking for by working very hard,” Rubio said. “It’s been difficult with the bad weather. But I had to keep going. I knew that Pinot was very strong. I had to finish with him and play it well tactically.

“It will take time for me to realize that I won a stage of the Giro d’Italia. I didn’t believe I’d do it.”

The route had already been changed earlier in the week when the top of the Passo del Gran San Bernardo was cut because of snowfall and a risk of avalanches.

It was announced that that climb would be removed completely because of adverse weather in Italy, and the riders would instead start past the halfway point and the stage slashed from 199 kilometers to 80 kilometers.

Race organizers said they “decided to meet the athletes’ requests by applying the extreme weather protocol.”

That saw the riders set off at the original start in Borgofranco d’Ivrea but, immediately after the neutral zone, they got off their bicycles and onto team buses which took them to the new start in Switzerland, at the foot of the brutal climb up Croix de Couer.

When the day’s racing eventually started, Pinot immediately attacked and he was followed by Cepeda, Rubio and Derek Gee.

They had an advantage of nearly two minutes on the overall leaders when they crossed the snow-covered summit of the Croix de Couer and extended that to nearly three minutes at the foot of the final climb.

Pinot and Cepeda took turns to attack near the top of the climb but Rubio quietly stuck with them before accelerating in the final few hundred meters.

The main contenders for the overall title rolled across 1 minute, 35 seconds behind. Thomas remained two seconds ahead of Primož Roglič and 22 ahead of João Almeida.

“We stayed calm when a small group went in the first climb,” Thomas said. “We stayed in control with Ben Swift and Pavel Sivakov setting the pace. Great ride by them.

“The way it went at the end made it quite hard to attack. But Primoz is probably happy to leave me in the maglia rosa for a few more days. I expect something more from him next week.”

Stage 14 has a top-category climb near the start in Sierre but – after the descent – is then almost entirely flat on the rest of the 193-kilometer route to Cassano Magnago.

The Giro ends in Rome on May 28.

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.