Rookie Evenepoel soars through fog into Vuelta lead

Rookie Evenepoel soars through fog into Vuelta lead
Team Quick Step's Belgian rider Remco Evenepoel celebrates wearing the overall leader's red jersey after the 6th stage of the 2022 La Vuelta cycling tour of Spain on Aug. 25, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 26 August 2022

Rookie Evenepoel soars through fog into Vuelta lead

Rookie Evenepoel soars through fog into Vuelta lead
  • Often billed as the new Eddy Merckx, Evenepoel leads the overall standings by 21sec from overnight leader Rudy Molard, while Movistar’s Spanish rider Enric Mas is third at 28sec

PICO JANO, SPAIN: Belgian tyro Remco Evenepoel left his Vuelta a Espana title rivals trailing on a foggy climb in the Cantabrian mountains on Thursday on a stage won by Australian Jay Vine of Alpecin.

Stage six of 21 left Bilbao for a 181.2km run through the Picos de Europa where rain and fog curtailed any daredevil descending after a downhill pile up within an escape group gave the peloton a stark safety reminder.

The visibly thrilled Vine was an unexpected winner, and revealed his team had carefully planned the attack.

“It was the team plan for me to attack on the final climb, it’s unreal,” said the 26-year-old from Townsville. “This is for my wife,” he said before quickly adding he would be buying a Corvette for himself.

But Evenepoel was the star of the day, on the first major skirmish between the title rivals.

Often billed as the new Eddy Merckx, Evenepoel leads the overall standings by 21sec from overnight leader Rudy Molard, while Movistar’s Spanish rider Enric Mas is third at 28sec.

Evenepoel’s teammate Julian Alaphilippe led the peloton both up and down the penultimate climb before unleashing his young charge on the last one.

A sustained acceleration from Evenepoel on the foggy slopes of Pico Jano dropped Simon Yates, Richard Carapaz and defending champion Primoz Roglic, but, with visibility limited to a few meters on the summit, he could not quite close the gap on Vine, who held on to win by 15sec.

“I’m really happy and proud. It’s a big dream coming true,” said Evenepoel who was tipped for the top three years ago but fell into a ravine in Italy.

“What I’m showing today is one of the best things I actually did on a bike. Uphill finish and putting in a strong performance thanks to the team is a dream come true. I hope we can keep it up,” he said.

Pre-race favorite Roglic of Jumbo finished the final 12.6km climb 1min 22sec adrift of the 22-year-old Evenepoel (Quick-Step), who also picked up bonus seconds.

“There’s still a long way to go but today we lost a bit. (The others) go strong but I didn’t need that proof. Quite difficult weather for the Vuelta.”

Three-time defending champion Roglic is fourth at 1min 01sec, while Ineos pair Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart are at 1min 27sec.

Carapaz had a poor day and has dropped to 2min 56sec off Evenepoel’s pace in a race he started as sole leader for Ineos.

Former Vuelta winner Yates now sits in ninth, but unlike Evenepoel and Roglic, could struggle to keep pace on a time-trial such as Tuesday’s stage 10.

The 19-year-old Spanish hope Juan Ayuso of Team UAE Emirates had a day to remember as he climbed to fourth overall.

Friday’s stage seven is a medium mountain run from Camargo to Cisternia, but Saturday and Sunday take the Vuelta into two crucial mountain stages.

A day off Monday will be followed by a long individual time-trial where Evenepoel, on paper at least, should punish his rivals again before the Vuelta swoops into the south.


Frankie Dettori looks to Country Grammer to deliver fond Saudi Cup farewell

Frankie Dettori looks to Country Grammer to deliver fond Saudi Cup farewell
Updated 17 sec ago

Frankie Dettori looks to Country Grammer to deliver fond Saudi Cup farewell

Frankie Dettori looks to Country Grammer to deliver fond Saudi Cup farewell
  • The superstar jockey, who plans to retire in November, hailed the unparalleled quality of the Riyadh track ahead of the world’s most valuable race on Feb. 25
  • Dettori’s first win of the winter in America was on Country Grammer, trained by Bob Baffert, when they triumphed in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita on Boxing Day

Frankie Dettori will team up at the $20 million Saudi Cup this month with last year’s runner-up, Country Grammer, as they take on what the jockey considers to be the “best dirt track in the world.”

The 52-year-old jockey has already enjoyed one massive victory on the horse, at the Dubai World Cup last year. Now he has his sights set on the world’s most valuable race, which will take place at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh on Feb. 25.

Dettori is currently racing in the US as part of his farewell world tour, having announced his intention to retire from the saddle, following a glittering career, at this year’s Breeders’ Cup meeting in November. His first win of the winter in America was on Country Grammer, trained by Bob Baffert, when they triumphed in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita on Boxing Day.

“The first day I came here to America to ride he took me by surprise,” Dettori said. “A lot of pressure was on; there were 40,000 people here and he was a big favorite so, of course, I wanted the horse to win.

“He won in style and I was super pleased with him. He still retains all the ability he had last year.

“Bob made it very clear to me that the Saudi Cup was going to be the next target; that’s why he didn’t run in the Pegasus. Touch wood, at the moment, it’s all systems go for the Saudi Cup.”

Flavien Prat was in the saddle at the Saudi Cup last year when Country Grammer was overtaken by surprise winner Emblem Road.

Dettori said he followed the horse’s races in the US closely for the rest of the year and was an interested onlooker when the 6-year-old finished a distant second behind US superstar Flightline in the Group 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar in September.

“I texted Bob Baffert after Flightline had beaten him by 19 lengths saying, ‘That was a good run,’” Dettori said with a laugh. “He said to me, ‘Country Grammer thought he won because he never saw Flightline.’

“In fairness, he’s a super consistent horse, he’s unphased by anything. He’s had a good season and there was always the aim to go back to the Saudi Cup this year.

“There’s still a couple of weeks to go and I hope he ships to Saudi in one piece. When you’ve got a 6-year-old, you are kind of confident traveling isn’t going to be an issue but he’s got to bring his A-game and he’s got to be a tough cookie.”

Last year’s winner Emblem Road is expected to lock horns with Country Grammer once again in this year’s Saudi Cup. American raider Scotland Yard and star British filly Saffron Beach are also expected to line up for the 1800m dirt prize, while Panthalassa is likely to head a strong Japanese contingent.

However, Dettori believes Taiba, also trained by Baffert, could pose the biggest threat to his stablemate. Taiba won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on Boxing Day, when Dettori, a former British Champion Jockey, trailed in last on outsider Perfect Flight.

“Taiba made a great comeback run the other day and he’s got fresh legs with little mileage on the clock,” Detrori said. “He is one of the horses I would fear as he’s got plenty to give.”

The Saudi Cup weekend promises to be a busy one for Dettori. He expects to pick up other big-race rides for Baffert in the supporting races on the card, and will partner Ebor hero Trawlerman in the $2.5 million Longines Red Sea Handicap for old allies John and Thady Gosden.

He will also take part in the International Jockeys Challenge on the opening day of the meet, Feb. 24. He will join Brazilian rider Joao Moreira and Yuga Kawada from Japan in the unique event, which features seven of the world’s best male riders and seven top female jockeys.

There is a total of $35.35 million in prize money up for grabs over the two-day Saudi Cup festival, making it the most valuable race meeting in the world. Dettori could not speak highly enough of the quality of the venue.

“I’ve been going to Saudi for the last 30 years. I’m not just saying this because we’re talking about the Saudi Cup, but I think this new track is the best dirt track in the world,” he said.

“It’s a beautiful layout and the sand is not as harsh as some of the American tracks. Turf horses can do really well on it and it brings the two categories closer together.

“The Saudi Cup is established as one of the main events in the racing calendar and I’m very much looking forward to it. The Jockeys Challenge will give me the last chance to ride with some great jockeys from around the world. It will be great fun.”


Ancelotti: Attacks on Vinícius a problem of Spanish soccer

Ancelotti: Attacks on Vinícius a problem of Spanish soccer
Updated 07 February 2023

Ancelotti: Attacks on Vinícius a problem of Spanish soccer

Ancelotti: Attacks on Vinícius a problem of Spanish soccer
  • Vinícius, the Brazilian forward who is Black, has been subjected to hate attacks since he arrived in Spain in 2018
  • "It is a problem of Spanish football,” said Ancelotti

MADRID: The hate attacks against Vinícius Júnior are a problem of Spanish soccer and must be dealt with, his Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said on Tuesday.
Vinícius, the Brazilian forward who is Black, has been subjected to hate attacks since he arrived in Spain in 2018. The most recent were on Sunday at a Spanish league game in Mallorca. Last month, his effigy hung off a bridge in Madrid before the derby against Atletico Madrid.
“The question I ask is this: What does Vinicius have to defend himself against? What do his teammates have to defend themselves against?” Ancelotti said on Tuesday on the eve of Madrid’s debut at the Club World Cup in Morocco.
“Is Vinícius the problem? It seems like the problem is Vinícius, but the problem is what happens around him. Period.
“It is a problem of Spanish football. I am a part of Spanish football and I think it’s a problem that we have to solve. Because it seems that Vinicius is the culprit, but he is being the victim of something that I don’t understand.”
Vinícius has been outspoken about the insults and often complained on social media of how he’s been treated.
He was also targeted because of his dances while celebrating goals, and recently his teammates called attention to the high number of fouls he was receiving in games. Last week, Valencia defender Gabriel Paulista was sent off after a vicious foul on Vinícius in a league game.
“Vinícius is an incredible person, with great values,” teammate Federico Valverde said. “He is different than most on the field, he enjoys soccer in his own way, in a happy way. I don’t think the rival fans are thinking about the person, they don’t realize that he could be the son of anyone who is in the stands. People need to be responsible for what they do, they shouldn’t take it out on a 22-year-old. You need to have respect.”
Racism in Spanish soccer has attracted more attention recently, but little has been done to punish anyone.
The Spanish league was investigating the attacks on Sunday at Mallorca after TV images showed someone calling him a monkey. Vinícius was also insulted after the match when he stopped to pose for photos and sign autographs for fans.
Authorities have yet to find those responsible for hanging Vinícius’ effigy last month, and so far teams have not been punished for the racist insults inside their stadiums.
The first trial against a fan who racially insulted a player in Spain is expected to begin this year following remarks by an Espanyol supporter against Athletic Bilbao forward Iñaki Williams a few years ago.
Mallorca defender Antonio Raíllo said last year that Vinícius was using the card of racism when accused of provoking opponents. Other players have complained of the Brazilian’s attitude on the field as well.
Madrid will face Egyptian club Al Ahly on Wednesday in the semifinals of the Club World Cup. Madrid have won the world club title a record seven times, including three times when the competition was called the Intercontinental Cup.


Ghana footballer Atsu found alive in quake rubble: envoy

Ghana footballer Atsu found alive in quake rubble: envoy
Updated 07 February 2023

Ghana footballer Atsu found alive in quake rubble: envoy

Ghana footballer Atsu found alive in quake rubble: envoy
  • Atsu, 31, joined Turkish Super Lig side Hatayspor in September
  • Atsu spent five seasons at Newcastle before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 2021

ACCRA, Turkiye: Ghana national player and former Newcastle midfielder Christian Atsu has been found alive in the rubble of an earthquake that killed more than 4,800 people in Turkiye and neighboring Syria, Ghana’s ambassador to Turkiye said Tuesday.
Atsu, 31, joined Turkish Super Lig side Hatayspor in September, based in the southern province of Hatay near the epicenter of Monday’s massive quake.
“I have good news coming. I am just getting information from the president of the Ghana association that Christian Atsu has been found in Hatay,” Francisca Ashietey-Odunton told Accra-based Asaase Radio, referring to a local Ghanaian community association.
The envoy gave no further details on his condition.
Hatayspor official Mustafa Ozat told Play Spor streaming channel on Monday that Atsu was still in the rubble and was trying to escape.
Atsu spent five seasons at Newcastle after an initial campaign on loan before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 2021.
He won the last of his 60 Ghana national caps in September 2019.
“We pray for Ghana International Christian Atsu and victims of the earthquake in Turkiye and Syria,” the Ghana Football Association said on Twitter.
Dozens of nations have offered aid since the 7.8-magnitude quake struck early on Monday as people were sleeping. Freezing weather has hampered emergency efforts.
Multi-story apartment buildings full of residents were among the more than 5,600 structures reduced to rubble in Turkiye, while Syria announced dozens of collapses.


Disappointment for the Sharjah Warriors as they exit DP World ILT20

Disappointment for the Sharjah Warriors as they exit DP World ILT20
Updated 07 February 2023

Disappointment for the Sharjah Warriors as they exit DP World ILT20

Disappointment for the Sharjah Warriors as they exit DP World ILT20
  • A loss to Gulf Giants on the final day of the round robin stage saw them drop out of top 4, to be replaced by Dubai Capitals

The final match of the round robin stage of the DP World ILT20 League involved the Gulf Giants, sitting in second place, and the Sharjah Warriors, who needed to win to clinch fourth spot and a place in the playoffs.

On paper, the favorites were the Giants, having won six of their nine games, with one loss and two rain-abandoned matches. And so the result would ultimately go with form, with home team Sharjah Warriors dropping out of the top four, to be replaced by Dubai Capitals.

Gulf Giants won the toss and chose to bowl first. The resting of Shimron Hetmyer and Chris Lynn gave the batting a diluted look.

Chris Jordan was also rested, as was Rehan Ahmad, but the bowling was still very strong. Sharjah Warriors had to pick its strongest team, relying on Marcus Stoinis, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Evin Lewis, Joe Denly and Moeen Ali to post a competitive total.

The Gulf Giants’ devotion to bowl first was unsurprising given their bowling attack on a wicket known for its low bounce. However, Dominic Drakes’ second ball flew, taking the keeper by surprise. The fifth ball was hit to mid-wicket for six by Afghanistan’s Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who perished in the second over, pulling Sanchit Sharma to be caught on the square leg boundary.

Captain Moeen Ali took the responsibility of batting at three. He watched Tom Kohler-Cadmore taking a liking to Tom Helm, striking 4, 4, 6, 4 before succumbing to a superbly judged catch in the deep by James Vince. Sometimes one wonders why batters, even in T20 when on a roll, try and hit every ball to the boundary. Why not say to oneself after striking 18 in four balls, take one and move on to the next over?

Carlos Brathwaite was introduced in the sixth over, inducing Moeen to drive to deep cover where Drakes dived forward to take the catch but injured himself in painful fashion. He took no further part in the match. Another Afghani, Qais Ahmed, took the seventh over, conceding only four runs.

At 57 for three in the eighth over, David Wiese pinned Evin Lewis in front. From a distance, it looked too high but, it was out on review. Wiese then went on to clean up Joe Denly and then Stoinis, lbw, to balls which seemed to keep low. Then, he got one to fly off Woakes’ glove to point. This was an extraordinary performance from Wiese, who went on to claim 5 for 20. The Warriors could not come back from that, closing on 107 in 18.3 overs, a disappointing effort.

Their cause was not helped by Woakes’ first delivery, which speared off down the legside for five wides. On occasions such as that, as captain and team members, you can be forgiven in thinking that this is not our day. Nevertheless, the Warriors soldiered on. At 31 for no wicket after four overs, Stoinis was brought on and he cleaned up Tom Banton.

A throw of the dice was needed. Woakes returned at the end opposite to the pavilion, with only two men on boundary — deep square and fine leg. The wily Vince and Colin Grandhomme took no risks against either Woakes or Stoinis, knowing that to bat out the latter’s four overs without loss would open up scoring opportunities against other bowlers.

Only until the fifth ball of Stoinis’ last over did Grandhomme restrain himself, smacking six, before receiving a bouncer at head height in riposte. Undeterred, he took pickings from Mohammad Nabi but, hooking Siddique at pavilion end, he was caught on the square leg boundary.

Despite the Giants’ slimmed down batting, at 82/2 all looked straightforward. Local UAE player, Aayan Khan, who did not bowl came in at number four, only to see Vince lose his off stump to Junaid Siddique. His job to hold the innings together was done. Khan and Erasmus were left to steer the Giants to their target, Khan finishing with a six to close the innings on 108 for three after 16.3 overs.

The Gulf Giants underlined their all-round strength in this performance to finish top of the table in the round robin stage. It was, however, a disappointing night for the Sharjah Warriors, who, as Moeen Ali admitted, were not good enough to qualify for the playoffs. In particular, he felt that the batting lineup had not maximized its potential.


Saudi Cup 2023 sees sons of Quality Road meet

Saudi Cup 2023 sees sons of Quality Road meet
Updated 07 February 2023

Saudi Cup 2023 sees sons of Quality Road meet

Saudi Cup 2023 sees sons of Quality Road meet
  • Scotland Yard and Emblem Road enhance the hopes of Prince Saud bin Salman to win the 4th edition

Having won the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Cup on Jan. 29, Scotland Yard will now have the chance to bring more success for owner Prince Saud bin Salman at the world’s biggest horseracing event later this month.

The win secured the 4-year-old son of Quality Road a qualifying card for the fourth edition of The Saudi Cup, which takes place at the 1,800-meter King Abdulaziz Racecourse on Feb. 25.

Prince Saud had competed in the previous editions of The Saudi Cup with Making Miracles, and with Emblem Road winning the 2022 edition.

At this year’s event, Emblem Road returns to compete alongside brother Scotland Yard, boosting Prince Saud’s hopes of retaining the title and winning the $20 million prize for the showpiece race.

Born on April 10, 2019, Scotland Yard is the son of the American stallion Quality Road and New Zealand mare Harmony, and was purchased by Prince Saud at the Tipton auction held last July for $255,000 when the horse was 3 years old.

Scotland Yard’s mother, Harmony, is the sister to three-time Breeders’ Cup champion mare Beholder, a record few horses have achieved.

The horse had not had much success in American racing so its owners decided to sell him, which facilitated his move to Saudi Arabia, where he has since trained, qualified and achieved victories. Two weeks ago Scotland Yard won the 1,600-meter King Faisal Cup at the Kings Cups Festival.

Prince Saud’s stable got its start in horseracing six years ago winning major cups and victories including the 2022 Saudi Cup title, King Abdulaziz Cup, and the Crown Prince Cup.

The stable has also won several titles including the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Cup, King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Cup, Prince Mohamed bin Saud Cup and the King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Cup.