Denz wins another Giro d’Italia stage, Armirail is first Frenchman in pink this century

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CASSANO MAGNAGO, Italy — Nico Denz sprinted to his second victory in the Giro d’Italia after almost celebrating too early, while Bruno Armirail became the first Frenchman to wear the pink jersey in this century.

Denz lifted his arms in celebration as he crossed the line at the end of Stage 14 but he appeared not to have spotted Derek Gee on his right. However, the German cyclist managed to pip Gee by half a wheel.

Denz, who rides for Bora-Hansgrohe, won Stage 12 for his first victory in a Grand Tour, in his sixth Giro.

“I was satisfied already after the first one and I told people to wake me up because this can’t be true, this must be a dream,” Denz said. “I don’t understand really what’s going on right now to be honest.”

Alberto Bettiol was third, while the general classification riders rolled across the line more than 21 minutes behind Denz at the end of another cold and rainy stage.

That moved Armirail into pink and gave previous leader Geraint Thomas a night off from podium celebrations and news conferences, and an early recovery ahead of a tough day in the mountains.

Armirail became the first French cyclist to wear the maglia rosa since Laurent Jalabert in 1999. The Groupama–FDJ rider has an advantage of 1 minute, 41 seconds over Thomas, and Primož Roglič was two seconds further back.

“The plan this morning was more about the stage win,” Armirail said. “We thought one day the maglia rosa could be up for grabs. But we didn’t think it would be today.

“I had tried on the fourth stage and I was disappointed that I wasn’t on a good day. Only once Thomas crossed the line it became a reality in my mind but it’s hard to realize … it’s a dream, I can’t believe it.”

There was one top-category climb near the start at Sierre as the race headed from Switzerland back across to Italy and an almost entirely flat rest of the 120-mile route to Cassano Magnago.

A large breakaway of 29 riders eventually escaped on the approach to the climb.

Four riders got away from that bunch with about 37 miles remaining but they were caught by the chasing group shortly before the line.

“We put in a massive, massive effort to come back in the last 10K,” Denz said. “Everyone was going full, everyone wanted to go for the victory and not for fourth place. Everyone was looking at each other.

“But I thought, I already have a win so I don’t want to do fourth – either I win or I don’t care. Then I just go all in to the line and here I am again.”

Armirail was 53 seconds behind and faced an anxious wait for the general classification group.

Stage 15 has four categorized climbs on the 121-mile route from Seregno to Bergamo.

The Giro ends in Rome in eight days.

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.