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Brambilla leads Giro after his 1st Grand Tour stage win

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AREZZO, Italy (AP) Gianluca Brambilla moved into the overall lead of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday with his first ever Grand Tour stage win after a solo attack at the end of the eighth stage.

The Italian attacked with 25 kilometers (16 miles) remaining of the 186-kilometer leg from Foligno to the Tuscan town of Arezzo to open up a significant gap. There was no one in sight as he crossed the line with his arms raised in celebration.

Matteo Montaguti was 1 minute, 6 seconds slower than Brambilla, with Moreno Moser 21 seconds further back in an Italian one-two-three.

Tom Dumoulin was dropped on the main climb of the Alpe di Ponti and finished more than three minutes behind Brambilla, handing the Etixx-QuickStep rider the pink jersey.

“It’s fantastic,” said Brambilla, who dedicated the win to his daughter, who was born 20 days ago. “From the beginning of the Giro I decided to aim for this stage and I did it, even if I still don’t believe it.”

Brambilla praised his teammate Matteo Trentin, saying “he was the rider who did the greater part of the work until I attacked on the hardest part of the climb.”

The main group of favorites finished 1.41 behind Brambilla, with Ilnur Zakarin moving into second overall, 23 seconds behind, and Steven Kruijswijk 10 seconds further back.

Brambilla made his move on the dirt roads up the Alpe di Ponti, swiftly passing Montaguti, who had attacked shortly before him.

The gap between the two Italians was never significant until they reached the flat and Brambilla was able to pull away.

Sunday could see one of the most important stages of the race, with a hilly 40.5-kilometer time trial from Radda to Greve in Chianti in the heart of the Tuscan red wine region.

Time-trial specialist Dumoulin could move back up the standings. The Belgian, who has spent all but one day in the pink jersey since winning the opening time trial, fell to 11th – 1.05 behind Brambilla.

The 99th Giro ends in Turin on May 29.

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.