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23,000 police mobilized to protect Tour de France

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PARIS (AP) Cyclists at the Tour de France will be under the watch of an unprecedented force of 23,000 police, including SWAT-like intervention squads, as the government tries to ensure security amid extremist threats.

France has been in a state of emergency since attacks on Paris in November killed 130 people, with soldiers guarding landmarks and religious sites. The emergency measures were extended last week to cover the European soccer championship next month and the Tour de France, which runs from July 2-24.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve met on Tuesday with Tour director Christian Prudhomme and afterward announced exceptional security measures.

Securing the Tour is unusually difficult, as crowds of fans gather informally on narrow mountain roads and city streets along thousands of kilometers around France. In past years, motorcyclists from the Republican Guard escorted the cyclists.

“Security is our priority – I might say the Tour de France organizers’ No. 1 priority. Security of the participants, security of the fans along the roads,” Prudhomme said.

In addition to the at least 23,000 police, Cazeneuve said, “We are currently assessing the need for a larger involvement of our security forces.”

Cazeneuve said he asked the GIGN intervention squad “to follow the Tour de France through to the end of the event and stand ready to intervene at any moment if it proves necessary.”

He promised similarly tough security around the Euro 2016, and acknowledged “a number of unfortunate mistakes” in security efforts at the Stade de France on Saturday that he vowed to fix.

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.