Greipel wins 5th stage; Dumoulin retains Giro lead

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BENEVENTO, Italy (AP) German rider Andre Greipel won a mass sprint by a large margin to take the fifth stage of the Giro d’Italia on Wednesday, and Tom Dumoulin held onto the overall leader’s pink jersey.

Greipel surged ahead on the final straight and had time to raise his arms before crossing the line.

It was Greipel’s 18th stage win in a Grand Tour – four at the Giro, 10 at the Tour de France and four in the Spanish Vuelta – and the 130th victory overall in his career.

“Chapeau to my teammates today. It was hard for them to chase down the break but they continued to work for me even if the other teams didn’t help us,” Greipel said. “In the sprint I tried not to be blocked in. There was still 300 meters to go but I felt good and decided to go for it.”

Riding for the Lotto Soudal team, Greipel clocked nearly six hours over the hilly 233-kilometer (145-mile) route from Praia to Benevento – the second-longest stage of this year’s race.

Arnaud Demare crossed second and Sonny Colbrelli was third.

Marcel Kittel, the German who won the opening two sprinting stages in the Netherlands, lost contact with the main pack in the final kilometers.

“I just wasn’t strong enough today,” Kittel said.

Dumoulin, of Team Giant-Alpecin, is 16 seconds ahead of Bob Jungels, with Diego Ulissi third overall, 20 seconds behind.

Alejandro Valverde, one of the favorites for the overall title, gained four seconds on rivals Vincenzo Nibali and Mikel Landa, who got caught behind a fall on the final curve.

An early breakaway of four riders – Daniel Oss, Alexander Foliforov, Amets Txurukka and Pavel Brutt – gained a lead of several minutes before being caught by the chasing pack with less than 10 kilometers (6 miles) to go.

Thursday’s Stage 6 is a 157-kilometer (98-mile) leg from Ponte to the Roccaraso, featuring the race’s first uphill finish.

“It’s going to be a tough finish and we’ll really find out how everyone’s form is,” Dumoulin said.

The 99th Giro ends May 29 in Turin.

2019 Tour will honor 1st victory of 5-time champion Merckx

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BRUSSELS (AP) The start of the 2019 Tour de France will be all about honoring Eddy Merckx in his hometown of Brussels.

Merckx, known as “The Cannibal” for his ferocious taste for victory, won the first of his five Tours in 1969. Half a century later, the Belgian great still sees it as one of the major accomplishments for a cyclist generally considered to be the greatest ever.

“I wore the yellow jersey 96 times. It is the best memory of my career. It still gives me goosebumps,” Merckx said during Tuesday’s presentation of the Grand Depart – the opening weekend of the three-week Tour.

Merckx also won a record 34 Tour stages and is among four riders who won the Tour a record five times. French riders Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, and Spanish great Miguel Indurain are the others.

Tour organizers said it will be the second time the race will set off from the Belgian capital, which hosted the race’s Grand Depart in 1958.

The 2019 race will also mark 100 years since the race leader’s yellow jersey was created.

When it comes to the first two stages on July 6-7, the iconic Wall of Geraardsbergen climb should take center stage.

The 192-kilometer (119-mile) first stage of the Tour will have the Wall, for decades the toughest climb in the Ronde of Flanders classic. The Wall will come early but the stage, which makes a big loop south of Brussels, is still set up for a sprint finish close to the royal palace.

It will also have its stretch of famed Flemish cobblestones and will pass through the hometown of soccer player Eden Hazard.

The second stage will be a 28-kilometer team time trial through the Belgian capital along its wide-open boulevards. The riders will also pass by St. Pieters-Woluwe in suburban Brussels, where Merckx lived as a child and where he got to pull on his first yellow jersey.

From Brussels, it is an easy trek south into nearby France for the rest of the race.

Peter Sagan wins prelude to Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Three-time world road racing champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia made an outstanding start to the 2018 cycling season Sunday when he won the People’s Choice Classic, a prelude to the first World Tour event of the season, the Tour Down Under.

Sagan beat star sprinters Andre Greipel of Germany and Caleb Ewan of Australia in a bunch sprint to win the 50.6 kilometer (31.4 mile) race over 22 laps of a street course in central Adelaide.

The win means Sagan will wear the tour leader’s ocher jersey in the first stage of the six stage Tour Down Under on Tuesday. Sunday’s race does not count toward general classification.

Ewan won the race in each of the past two years and Greipel is the only three-time winner. The 132-strong field that lined up for the race Sunday included seven former winners.