Bilbao wins, Froome fifth in Tour of the Alps first stage

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Spaniard Pello Bilbao acknowledges the applause after winning the first stage of the Tour of the Alps on Monday.

MILAN — Spaniard Pello Bilbao won the first stage of the Tour of the Alps on Monday with Britain's Chris Froome in fifth as he competes despite an ongoing doping probe.

Bilbao clocked 3hr 26min 41sec over the 134km stage, attacking with five kilometers to go on the final climb, to hold off his Astana teammate Luis Leon Sanchez and 20-year-old Colombian Ivan Sosa third, both six seconds behind.

Four-time Tour de France winner Froome accelerated on the final Serrada climb but could not match the powerful Astana team effort finishing 10sec off the pace.

"I'm on the right path, the feeling is good," said Team Sky rider Froome as he continues his preparations for next month's Giro d'Italia. "Astana had the advantage of numbers in the final and used it in their favor."

The 32-year-old has been allowed to continue competing despite his case pending with cycling's anti-doping unit after an adverse analytical finding for the asthma drug salbutamol at the Vuelta a Espana last September.

Froome has already finished 10th in the Ruta del Sol and 34th in the Tirreno-Adriatico this year and is using the Tour of the Alps — formerly the Giro del Trentino — as his last warm-up for the Giro d'Italia starting on May 4.

Bilbao, 28, pulled on the leader's jersey ahead of the most difficult in the five-stage race on Tuesday over 145km between Lavarone and l'Alpe di Pampeago, with a final climb already used several times during the Giro.

Valgren drops Sagan, Valverde

to win Amstel Gold Race

Denmark's Michael Valgren of Astana won the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, beating Roman Kreuziger in a cat-and-mouse finale after a rolling 263km race from Maastricht.

Italy's Enrico Gasparotto was third by a few seconds while pre-race favorites Peter Sagan and Alejandro Valverde came fourth and fifth after being dropped by a lightning break around 1km from the finish.

"The team was counting on me," said Valgren, who underlined his classics form with a fourth-place finish at the recent Tour of Flanders. "In the escape I had the help of Jakob Fuglsang who was so strong and after all his efforts I had to win."

A minute's silence was observed at the start in memory of Belgian Michael Goolaerts, who died after suffering heart failure during the Paris-Roubaix last Sunday. The only one of the 'Ardennes Classics' to be run on Dutch soil featured 34 small climbs over constantly rolling terrain on narrow country roads.

As expected, an early breakaway formed and the nine frontrunners went on to build a lead of over 15 minutes. A route change made a long-range victory bid more likely on Sunday, the race being stripped of its summit finish.

It took the efforts of Valverde's Movistar team to reel in the earlier escapees, and that set the stage for a war of nerves between the key remaining contenders.

Valgren, who was second here in 2016, took a back seat while Danish compatriot Fuglsang kept Valverde, Sagan, France's Julian Alaphilippe and Belgian Tim Wellens on tenterhooks with a series of false breaks.

When Valgrem suddenly accelerated, a tired-looking bunch looked to Sagan to close the gap. But the world champion, crowned king of Paris-Roubaix last week, refused the challenge.

Kreuziger (Mitchelton-Scott) set off in pursuit of Valgren and the pair opened a gap that proved, for the Dane, to be the platform for a clever victory. — AFP


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