Scott Dargis

Pogacar, van der Breggen win Tour of California

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PASADENA, Calif. – Tadej Pogacar did the work necessary to win the Tour of California on the steep climb of Mt. Baldy.

His team did the work it needed for him to win on the run-in to Pasadena.

With big names going on the attack midway through the final stage Saturday, UAE Team Emirates was able to consistently keep their young star out of trouble. And when the field came back for a sprint at the Rose Bowl, all Pogacar had to do was raise his hands in overall victory.

Cees Bol of Team Sunweb won the group sprint ahead of three-time world champion Peter Sagan to win the seventh stage, while Jasper Philipsen capped a big day for Team Emirates with a third-place run.

Pogacar’s first WorldTour stage race victory came ahead of Sergio Iguita, who went on the attack on one of the day’s final climbs, and Kasper Asgreen of the strong Deceuninck-Quick Step team.

“This was my main goal this year,” said the 20-year-old Pogacar, who was inspired to pick up cycling by his brother. “I knew that I was prepared. I surprised myself a bit that I took the overall win, but I’m really happy and I’m looking forward to next year.”

In the three-stage women’s race, Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen held the lead she took on the first stage all the way to Pasadena, finishing 29 seconds ahead of teammate Katie Hall.

Elisa Balsamo beat Arlenis Sierra and Leigh Ann Ganzer in a sprint on the final stage.

“It’s really special,” said van der Breggen, who finished just behind Hall on the Stage 2 climb to Mt. Baldy. “Katie won here last year and I the year before. We get to work together now. Yeah, getting a one-two result, we didn’t think that was possible before. It’s great for the spirit of the team.”

The short final stage took riders 126 kilometers from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. And with Pogacar holding a 16-second lead on Higuita after his win on Mt. Baldy, the contenders knew they had to make something happen on the short hills midway through the stage.

Max Shachmann got into an early breakaway with Davide Ballerini, Alex Hoehn and a handful of other strong climbers. Asgreen soon attacked the lead group, but their advantage over Pogacar’s chase group was not enough to prevent the field coming together during the final circuits around the stadium.

Deceuninck-Quick Step, which had a strong week of racing, set the tempo for its sprinter, Fabio Jakobsen, and Team Ineos tried to set up Kristoffer Halvorsen with a lead-out. But it was Bol, riding for Team Sunweb, who timed his sprint perfectly to nip Sagan at the line.

“It was quite a chaotic stage,” Sagan said. “I probably reacted a bit late to Bol’s sprint.”

Philipsen’s third-place finish helped him secure the best young rider jersey, while Asgreen won the points jersey as the top sprinter and Ballerini secured the king of the mountains jersey.

“This is my first time here in California. It’s beautiful country,” Ballerini said. “I tried to win a stage but it wasn’t easy. I tried to get away also today, but it was a very short, fast stage.”

That was good news for Pogacar, who was able to hold onto his 16-second advantage over Higuita, riding for EF Education First. Asgreen was another second back to round out the podium, while former race winner George Bennett was 29 seconds back in fourth for his Team Jumbo-Visma.

Asked where the relatively unknown Pogacar picked up his beyond-his-years poise and tactics, he replied: “I think from all the racing over the years, with great coaching. I’ve been racing 10 years now and you learn stuff. But I still don’t know everything.”

It seems as if van der Breggen does.

The world’s best rider by a wide margin, van der Breggen stayed close to the front of the peloton as it reeled in the breakaway, helping to ensure the final stage of the women’s race would be a sprint.

American rider Coryn Rivera came to the front and was just starting to ramp up the speed when she sustained a mechanical problem at the worst possible moment. That opened the door for Balsamo, who held off Sierra and Ganzer with Chloe Dygert of the U.S. right behind in fourth.

Van der Breggen and Hall were joined on the final podium by Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio.

“It was a hard stage race. Three beautiful stages,” van der Breggen said. “They didn’t make it easy for us the last day. We’re really happy to finish first and second. It’s a great result.”

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Osaka, Federer withdraw from Italian Open

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ROME – Roger Federer and top-ranked Naomi Osaka withdrew before their Italian Open quarterfinals because of injuries on Friday.

Federer reported a right leg injury ahead of his match against Stefanos Tsitsipas, while Osaka said her right hand was injured before she was to play Kiki Bertens.

Federer and Osaka both won two matches on Thursday after play was backed up due to rain a day earlier.

While Osaka won both of her matches in straight sets, the 37-year-old Federer had to labor for more than 2 1/2 hours to overcome Borna Coric in his second time on court.

“I am disappointed that I will not be able to compete today. I am not 100 percent physically and, after consultation with my team, it was determined that I not play,” Federer said. “Rome has always been one of my favorite cities to visit and I hope to be back next year.”

It’s only the fourth time in Federer’s career he has had a walkover loss, the ATP Tour said, adding the 20-time Grand Slam champion has never retired in 1,465 matches.

Federer was not originally planning to play in Rome but he changed his schedule last week, saying he would rather play matches than practice ahead of the French Open, which starts in nine days.

Tsitsipas and Bertens advanced to the semifinals via walkover.

Osaka couldn’t immediately say how serious the injury was, or if it will affect her status for Roland Garros. She was yet to see a doctor but when she held her hand up for reporters to see it was clearly swollen.

“I woke up this morning and couldn’t really move my thumb,” Osaka said. “I tried to practice and grip my racket but I couldn’t, and I kept feeling this pain when I tried to move my hand in different directions.”

Osaka’s win on Thursday guaranteed that she will remain No. 1 going into the French Open.

“I didn’t feel anything yesterday. That’s why I’m kind of confused right now because I literally woke up in the morning and couldn’t move my thumb,” Osaka said. “So I was like, `Maybe I slept on it and maybe it will go away.’ But it didn’t.”

Bertens, who won the Madrid Open last week, will face Marketa Vondrousova or Johanna Konta for a spot in the final.

The quarterfinals in the other half of the draw feature former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka against Karolina Pliskova, and Kristina Mladenovic against Maria Sakkari in a matchup of two qualifiers.

Tsitsipas’ semifinal opponent will be eight-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal or Fernando Verdasco.

The other men’s quarterfinals are top-ranked Novak Djokovic against Juan Martin del Potro, and Kei Nishikori against Diego Schwartzman.

Osaka also withdrew before a semifinal in Stuttgart, Germany, last month due to an abdominal injury. And she retired from her previous meeting with Bertens at last year’s WTA Finals with a leg injury.

“I feel like the ab thing could have been helped, but this one I don’t think I could have helped it because I don’t know what caused it,” Osaka said. “I don’t know why I have it.”

Serena Williams opens clay season with easy win

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ROME – Serena Williams opened her clay-court season with a routine 6-4, 6-2 win over Swedish qualifier Rebecca Peterson on Monday in the first round of the Italian Open.

Williams fell behind 3-1 in the first set but then began to take control with her baseline power on a windy day at the Foro Italico.

When Williams ran down a passing attempt from Peterson and replied with a cross-court winner to break for a 5-2 lead in the second set, she let out a scream and bent over as she pumped both of her fists.

Williams finished with 28 winners to Peterson’s eight, and committed only two more unforced errors than the 58th-ranked Swede, 22-20.

Williams was playing for the first time since withdrawing ahead of her third-round match at the Miami Open in March because of a left knee injury. The last time Williams had played in Rome was when she won the last of her four Italian Open trophies in 2016.

If Venus Williams wins her match against Elise Mertens, the Williams sisters will meet in the second round.

In men’s action, 13th-seeded Borna Coric rallied past Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 in a matchup of two of the top young players on tour. Auger-Aliassime struggled with his serve, hitting seven double-faults to Coric’s one.

Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco also had to come from behind to beat Kyle Edmund 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Verdasco will next face fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem. Also, Laslo Djere defeated Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3, 6-4.

Others advancing on the women’s side included Dominika Cibulkova, Katerina Siniakova and Yulia Putintseva.