ONTARIO, Calif. (AP) — UAE Team Emirates began its week at the Tour of California by sending home one of its riders upon learning that his name had surfaced in a European investigation into doping in cycling.
The team appears set to end it with the overall race lead.
Tadej Pogacar reeled in several top contenders on Friday’s final climb to Mt. Baldy, then matched every attack thrown down by Sergio Higuita. That allowed him to reach the finish line first and take not only the sixth stage but also the lead in the general classification with just a day of racing to go.
In the women’s race, American climber Katie Hall surged in the final couple kilometers up Mt. Baldy before holding off teammate Anna van der Breggen for the stage win. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio was third.
Van der Breggen retained the overall lead by 29 seconds over Hall, the defending race winner.
UAE Team Emirates has ridden this week without Kristijan Durasek, who was caught up in the Austrian doping probe. But it hardly mattered for Pogacar, who stayed out of trouble during the earlier stages and was in fourth place and 16 seconds adrift of Tejay van Garderen entering Friday’s stage.
Van Garderen’s team tried to pace him to the top, but the 2013 race winner cracked before some of his EF-Education First teammates. Gianni Mascon of Team Ineos, who had been third, also dropped off the brutal pace up the steep Mt. Baldy climb, throwing the race wide open.
George Bennett tried to join the fray in the closing kilometer, but he was unable to make up the ground on Pogacar and Higuita, making it a true duel to the finish line.
Higuita led the way heading to the final corner, but the diminutive Colombian swung low and took a better line, allowing him to pull ahead and sprint clear for the victory.
He now leads by 16 seconds ahead of Higuita with Kasper Asgreen in third.
Several riders in the women’s race tried to attack on the tough climb of Mt. Baldy, too, and Omer Shapira was the first to offer a truly dangerous move. Hall soon followed with about 2½ kilometers (1 ½ miles) to go, and van der Breggen soon bridged to make a trio of riders at the front.
Shapira was unable to keep up with Hall and van der Breggen, the reigning world champion. That left the two Boels-Dolmans riders to duel on the final kilometer to the summit, and Hall made the pass within sight of the finish line to snag the stage victory.
The final stage Saturday takes the men and women 126 kilometers (78 miles) from Santa Clarita to Pasadena, but both overall leaders will be expected to protect their jerseys before the finish at the Rose Bowl.
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