Kooij sprints to win 9th stage of Giro d'Italia on grand tour debut. Pogacar keeps overall lead

Netherlands' Olva Kooij celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 9th stage of the of the Giro d'Italia cycling race, from Avezzano to Naples, Italy, Sunday, May 12, 2024. (Massimo Paolone/LaPresse via AP)

NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Dutch cyclist Olav Kooij won a bunch sprint for a stage victory on his grand tour debut while Tadej Pogacar maintained his considerable lead after the ninth stage of the Giro d’Italia on Sunday.

Kooij, who rides for Visma-Lease a Bike, edged Jonathan Milan by half a wheel at the end of the 214-kilometer (133-mile) route from Avezzano to Napoli – the second longest day of this Giro. Juan Sebastian Molano was third.

It was a 33rd professional win for the 22-year-old Kooij.

“I was really looking forward to my first grand tour,” Kooij said, adding that despite his previous wins “this one is really one I was dreaming of.”

Jhonatan Narvaez had seemed set for victory after making his move with 7.7 kilometers remaining and he had a gap of 12 seconds heading into the final kilometer.

But, with Pogacar leading a charging peloton for his own fast man Molano, Narvaez was caught just 50 meters from the line.

Milan launched his sprint but he was edged at the line by Kooij.

It had been expected to be a day for the breakaway but only two riders went clear right at the start. Polti-Kometa teammates Mirco Maestri and Andrea Pietrobon had a long and lonely day up front before they were caught with 24 kilometers remaining.

Pogacar remained 2 minutes, 40 seconds ahead of Daniel Martinez overall. Last year’s runner-up Geraint Thomas was 2:58 behind.

“It’s a comfortable gap to go to the rest day, I’m really looking forward for (an) easy day tomorrow,” Pogacar said. “Just relax and try to not think about the race for one day, but it is going to be hard.”

Monday sees the race’s first rest day before a short but difficult leg. Tuesday’s 10th stage starts in Pompei and is just 142 kilometers (88 miles) but features a second-category climb in the middle before the top-classified climb to the finish at Cusano Mutri.

“It’s good to be for rest day in Napoli and let’s hope for some good pizza and good cappuccino,” Pogacar said.

The Giro ends in Rome on May 26.


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