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Nadal cruises past Cilic to Rome semis

MAGNIFICENT STRETCH:Novak Djokovic continued his unbeaten run for the year by dispatching Sweden’s Robin Soderling in straight sets to take his 35th successive win

Reuters, MONTEVERGINE DI MERCOGLIANO, ITALY

Victoria Azarenka returns to Maria Sharapova during their quarter-final match in Rome, Italy, on Friday.

Photo: EPA

Rookie Bart de Clercq clung on for his first career victory at the Giro d’Italia on Friday, winning the seventh stage by half a wheel on the first summit finish of this year’s race.

The 24-year-old Omega-Pharma Lotto rider took off 7km from the finish on the Montevergine di Mercogliano climb, but his lead evaporated as a 26-strong pack of favorites raised their pace behind.

De Clercq finally claimed a very narrow victory ahead of Italian overall contender Michele Scarponi and Czech Roman Kreuziger, while Pieter Weening of Holland remains in the overall lead for a third successive day.

Riding his first ever major Tour, an emotional de Clercq dedicated his win to fellow Belgian Wouter Weylandt, who died on Monday in a high-speed downhill crash.

“It was too close a finish for me to show it when I raised my arms, but this win is for Wouter and his family,” said de Clercq, who lived about 30km away from Weylandt and would sometimes meet him on training rides. “I didn’t think that I would be able to make it to the finish, but somehow I made it.”

De Clercq said that he had only started amateur bike racing three years ago, aged 21, before turning pro this year.

“I’d been an athlete, but gave up when I was studying at Ghent university,” he said. “Then I did two years as an amateur cyclist and turned pro quite late.”

“Today I attacked because I had nothing to lose. I don’t think people attack enough in cycling in general, anyway. So I went for it,” he added.

The most aggressive of the favorites, Scarponi said he was surprised de Clercq had held on.

“He looked as if he was finished, but he got there all the same,” the Italian veteran told reporters. “I only really accelerated in the last kilometer, I was following team orders and those were my instructions.”

Spain’s Alberto Contador said there had been no chance to gain any advantage at the top of the overall standings.

“The last climb was very long, but it was so steady there wasn’t a chance of making any real difference between the favorites,” Contador, who finished ninth, told reporters.

“Sunday [with the summit finish on Mount Etna in Sicily] will be a very different story to today,” the Saxo Bank leader added. “There will be some important gaps.”

The eighth stage is 217km from Sapri to Tropea.

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