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World champion Peter Sagan opens Tour of California with win

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SAN DIEGO (AP) Peter Sagan wasn’t quite ready to strip off the yellow jersey at the Tour of California.

The surprising overall winner a year ago, Sagan unleashed a powerful sprint at the last possible moment on Sunday, overcoming Dutch riders Wouter Wippert and Dylan Groenewegen to win the 109-mile first stage that began and ended along the San Diego waterfront.

Sagan was quiet all day in the peloton, then freelanced his way through the field as the pace picked up on the wide boulevards to the finish. He swung wide of Wippert and Groenewegen within sight of the finish line, thrusting his bike across in first by less than a tire length.

It was the 14th stage win in California for the Slovakian superstar, and continues one of the most impressive stretches in recent cycling history that began on the opposite coast.

Sagan won the world championship last September in Richmond, Virginia.

The opening stage include only one serious climb, midway through the route, so there was plenty of time for the field to come together. An early seven-rider breakaway never stood much chance, and when it was reduced to three, they were swept up altogether with about 2 miles left to go.

The stage figured to be a sprint finish all along, but missing from the front were several of the sport’s biggest names – Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff and John Degenkolb.

Groenewegen, riding for Lotto-Jumbo, took advantage of his team’s strong lead-out to make the first move at the finish. Wippert flashed by him in his Cannondale colors and looked for a moment like he would give his U.S.-based team a stunning victory in the biggest race on American soil.

The two dark-horses then watched the world’s top-ranked rider storm right past them.

The second stage on Monday, a 92-mile ride from Pasadena to Santa Clarita, could give Sagan an opportunity to hang onto the leader’s jersey. There are four rated climbs that could shake up the field, but there’s also enough time after the final one to produce another bunched finish.

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.