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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.

World champ Peter Sagan to race in Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) Three-time world road race champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia has confirmed he will compete in the Tour Down Under in January, the opening World Tour event of the season.

Sagan won the world title last month for the third straight year, becoming the first cyclist to do so. He competed in the Tour Down Under for the first time last year, finishing second on three stages behind Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan.

Sagan, who rides for the BORA-hansgrohe team, said the six-stage Tour Down Under is “the perfect start to the UCI World Tour season each year … a challenging and tough course, warm weather and the passionate fans that cheer for us day in day out no matter what.”

Former Olympic cycling champ fired after positive drug test

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) Former Olympic road cycling champion Samuel Sanchez, who returned a positive doping test in August, had his B-sample confirmed Wednesday and was promptly fired by the BMC Racing Team.

Sanchez’s out-of-competition test revealed growth hormone-releasing peptide 2, or GHRP-2, a drug that increases a body’s level of growth hormone. Several cyclists have tested positive for the drug, among them Italian rider Stefano Pirazzi, who was given a four-year ban earlier this week.

The U.S.-based BMC Team said in a statement Wednesday that it was adhering to its zero-tolerance policy toward doping by terminating the Spaniard’s contract “with immediate effect.”

The 39-year-old Sanchez, who had been provisionally suspended, won gold at the 2008 Beijing Games.