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Britain’s Olympic cycling coach resigns over comments

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MANCHESTER, England — One of the key figures behind Britain’s successful Olympic cycling team resigned on Wednesday, soon after being suspended by the national governing body for allegedly making discriminatory remarks to riders.

Shane Sutton stepped down from his position as technical director at British Cycling, saying the furor around his suspension has “clearly become a distraction” as the team begins its final preparations for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Female cyclist Jess Varnish said last week in British newspaper The Daily Mail that Sutton made derogatory comments about her body shape and told her to “move on and have a baby” after she failed to qualify for this year’s Olympics.

In the same newspaper on Tuesday, para-cyclist Darren Kenny said he heard Sutton refer to members of the disability team in derogatory terms.

British Cycling said Sutton was the subject of an investigation because of “allegations of discrimination that have been reported in the press.” Sutton rejects the accusations but has resigned.

“I look forward to taking a full part in the review process so I can respond to the allegations in detail,” Sutton said in a statement released by British Cycling.

The body has already announced it will be undertaking an independent review into its performance programs.

Sutton, a 58-year-old Australian, is a respected coach who has been with the Britain squad since 2002. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in her honors list in 2010.

Under Sutton, Britain topped the cycling medal standings at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing after winning 14 medals. Britain won 12 medals in cycling at the London Olympics in 2012.

“Cycling is my passion and I have always worked to get the very best out of professional athletes,” Sutton said. “I am proud of what British Cycling has achieved and I am excited by the potential of the team for Rio. They will always have my full support.”

Speaking before accusations made by Kenny, Sutton denied making the comments about Varnish.

“Actually I’m embracing the opportunity to sit in front of the panel and give my view because I don’t think I’ve been heard properly from Day 1 of this,” Sutton told The Times newspaper. “I’ve had great support from everybody here, but at the end of the day it’s an allegation.”

Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton, who is now retired, told The Daily Telegraph that she never felt British Cycling gave her the same respect as her male teammates, and said she knows “exactly how miserable they made me.”

Alejandro Valverde retakes overall lead of Tour of Catalonia

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TORTOSA, Spain — Alejandro Valverde defeated Chris Froome and Alberto Contador to win the decisive fifth stage of the Tour of Catalonia on Friday and take the overall lead going into the weekend.

Valverde won after dominating the final climb of the 182-kilometer (113-mile) stage from Valls to Tortosa. The Spaniard finished 13 seconds ahead of both Froome and Contador.

Valverde opened a 21-second lead over Froome and a 47-second gap to Contador in the overall standings.

American Tejay van Garderen, the leader going into Friday’s stage, dropped to sixth place overall, 1 minute, 18 seconds behind Valverde.

Froome, the three-time Tour de France winner, had an eventful day. He had a puncture about 20 kilometers (12 miles) into the stage, and was also forced to momentarily stop with about 45 kilometers (28 miles) to go because of a crash in front of him.

Saturday’s sixth stage will see riders travel 189 kilometers (117 miles) from Tortosa to Reus.

The week-long race in northeastern Spain ends Sunday in Barcelona.

Greg Van Avermaet wins E3 Harelbeke after three-man sprint

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HARELBEKE, Belgium — Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet came out on top of a three-man sprint to win the E3 Harelbeke as Belgian riders secured a 1-2-3 finish in the one-day cobbled race on Friday.

Van Avermaet edged former world champion Philippe Gilbert. Oliver Naesen completed the podium.

Tom Boonen broke up the peloton when he attacked on the Taaienberg hill. A small group followed, and the Belgian trio pulled away on the steep cobbled slopes of the Oude Kwaremont, and stayed ahead all the way to the finish.

The Belgians sized each other carefully in the final kilometer. Naesen ignited the sprint 250 meters from the line. He made his move too soon, and Van Avermaet caught him with ease, then resisted Gilbert’s response to claim his first win in the E3.

It was Van Avermaet’s second important win this season following his success in the Het Nieuwsblad in February.

Gilbert, who was runner-up to Yves Lampaert in the Dwars doo Vlaanderen race midweek, looked strong in the finale but maybe chose too big a gear, failing to catch his rival.

“It gives me a lot of confidence for Flanders,” Van Avermaet said, referring to the Tour of Flanders, the region’s big race on April 2.

The race was marred by crashes, and Tony Gallopin of France was forced to withdraw with a suspected left wrist injury. His Lotto Soudal team said he would be taken to hospital for a medical checkup. World champion Peter Sagan was also caught up in a crash 42 kilometers from the finish but appeared uninjured.