Pogacar leads Giro by nearly 7 minutes after stunning win in Queen stage

LIVIGNO, Italy (AP) — What Tadej Pogacar wants, he normally gets.

The Slovenian star said he wanted to win the Queen stage of the Giro d’Italia and he did just that on Sunday — destroying his rivals on the toughest leg of this year’s race to add three minutes to his already considerable advantage.

There is just one week remaining of the Italian grand tour.

Despite having ridden for more than six hours through the high mountains on Sunday, Pogacar was full of smiles as he was cheered on by the crowds lining the difficult summit finish at Livigno.

As the sunshine glinted off the snow on the sides of the route, Pogacar crossed the finish line with his arms outstretched over his head.

“Today was one of the best days, I would not say that it was the best day of my career but it was a really nice stage, really good route, nice climbs,” Pogacar said. “The team did a super good job.

“We had this stage in mind since December or whatever.”

Pogacar finished the 15th stage 29 seconds ahead of Nairo Quintana and 2 minutes, 32 seconds ahead of third-place Georg Steinhauser.

His closest rivals were nearly three minutes slower. With the bonus seconds he picked up, Pogacar now leads the Giro by 6:41 over Geraint Thomas, with Daniel Martinez 6:56 behind in third.

Two-time Tour de France winner Pogacar is targeting the Giro-Tour double this year.

With just six stages left after Monday’s rest day, he’s well set to complete the first step.

It was a fourth stage win for Pogacar in his Giro debut but the UAE Team Emirates rider had made no secret that he was targeting the Queen stage, which is the name given to the hardest leg of the race.

There were five categorized climbs — including the fearsome Passo del Mortirolo — and 5,200 meters of elevation on the 222-kilometer (138-mile) leg from Manerba del Garda to Livigno and the arrival at Mottolino, where the last 1,800 meters was on asphalt along a ski slope with 18% gradients.

Pogacar made his move with 13.9 kilometers remaining and none of the other GC contenders could follow him. At that point he was just over three minutes behind sole leader Steinhauser, who was on the verge of getting caught and then passed by Quintana.

Pogacar quickly swept up the remnants of the breakaway — which had been 50 strong earlier in the day — before blasting past Steinhauser toward the top of the penultimate climb and heading off in pursuit of Quintana.

He passed the 2014 Giro winner with 1.9 kilometers remaining and was untroubled on the steep climb to the finish.

“I gave it my all in the 10 or 15km,” Pogacar said. “I’m super happy that I can win a queen stage in Livigno, one of my favourite places in Italy.”

After the rest day, Tuesday’s 16th stage is another one where Pogacar could put even more time on his rivals as the race heads from the Alps into the daunting Dolomites.

The now 206-kilometer (128-mile) route from Livigno to Santa Cristina Val Gardena has been altered because of a high risk of avalanches on the Stelvio.

The riders will still go partly up the famed ascent but to 2,489 meters instead of 2,758. That will nevertheless still be the highest point of this year’s race.

The peloton will then instead head along another pass into Switzerland before rejoining the original route.

The Giro ends in Rome next Sunday


AP cycling: https://apnews.com/hub/cycling

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