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Astana’s new Giro leader Scarponi soars in Alps

ROME (AFP) — Italian veteran Michele Scarponi took his first win in four years as he claimed victory on Monday’s opening stage of the Tour of the Alps. This bodes well for his run as Team Astana’s impromptu Giro d’Italia GC leader, following the withdrawal of his teammate Fabio Aru from the Giro due to knee injury.

Scarponi, 37, out-sprinted Briton Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) of France to claim the early lead of the race following a 142km stage from Kufstein to Innsbruck in Austria. The stage featured an uphill finish after 2,075 meters of total climbing.

All of the race’s five stages feature significant mountain passes, but stage 3 might be the most decisive for the overall, with a 600-meter climb to the finish in Funes-Villnoss after 143km of racing. Though the final day does not have a summit finish, it is a brutal 199 kilometers and includes the 1,650-meter ascent of Monte Bondone.

Scarponi won the Alps Tour in 2011, back when it was known as Giro del Trentino, the same year he took Giro honors. It remains to be seen what he can do in this week’s race, but Scarponi is not likely to be considered a five-star favorite for the Giro. So far in 2017, Scarponi has finished top-20 overall the three other week-long tours he has started: Volta a la Valenciana, Volta ao Algarve, and Tirreno Adriatico.

Thomas and Pinot are expected to challenge for overall Giro victory alongside Vuelta a España champion Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) — a winner of all three grand tours.