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Track cyclist Kluge takes Giro stage; Kruijswijk keeps lead

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CASSANO D’ADDA, Italy — German rider Roger Kluge used his track cycling experience to take the biggest victory of his road career, winning the 17th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Wednesday with a well-timed counterattack.

Steven Kruijswijk of the Netherlands had little trouble protecting his 3-minute lead over Esteban Chaves on the mostly flat 196-kilometer (122-mile) leg from Molveno to Cassano d’Adda.

Kluge responded to an attack from Filippo Pozzato in the final kilometer (mile) and easily overtook the Italian on the final straight to hold off the sprinting favorites.

Kluge had time to raise his right arm in celebration before he crossed the line in slightly more than 4 1/2 hours.

Giacomo Nizzolo of Trek-Segafredo finished second and Nikias Arndt of Team Giant-Alpecin crossed third, both with the same time as Kluge.

The 30-year-old Kluge won a silver medal in the points race at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He also took silver in the omnium at this year’s track worlds and a gold in the omnium at the 2010 European Championships.

“I’ve been a pro for six years and this is the big victory I have been looking for,” Kluge said. “It wasn’t planned at all. I was working for Heinrich Haussler, closing the gap for him but I saw a possibility to get away. The finishing line was very near.”

The victory comes after Kluge’s IAM Cycling team announced it would fold after failing to find a second sponsor.

“It’s a strange feeling,” Kluge said. “Yesterday we were very disappointed to hear that our team is going to stop at the end of the year but we decided to stick together and it’s wonderful to come up with a victory to make it up for our disappointment.”

Stage 18 on Thursday is the race’s longest, a 244-kilometer (152-mile) leg from Muggio to Pinerolo that starts out flat but concludes with some steep hills and a dangerous descent.

“I knew this was my last easy day before some hard stages coming up,” Kruijswijk said. “(Tomorrow) is a stage with a hard and spectacular finale after a tricky downhill. I’m ready.”

There are also two more serious mountain stages Friday and Saturday before the 99th edition of the race ends Sunday in Turin.

Alejandro Valverde retakes overall lead of Tour of Catalonia

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TORTOSA, Spain — Alejandro Valverde defeated Chris Froome and Alberto Contador to win the decisive fifth stage of the Tour of Catalonia on Friday and take the overall lead going into the weekend.

Valverde won after dominating the final climb of the 182-kilometer (113-mile) stage from Valls to Tortosa. The Spaniard finished 13 seconds ahead of both Froome and Contador.

Valverde opened a 21-second lead over Froome and a 47-second gap to Contador in the overall standings.

American Tejay van Garderen, the leader going into Friday’s stage, dropped to sixth place overall, 1 minute, 18 seconds behind Valverde.

Froome, the three-time Tour de France winner, had an eventful day. He had a puncture about 20 kilometers (12 miles) into the stage, and was also forced to momentarily stop with about 45 kilometers (28 miles) to go because of a crash in front of him.

Saturday’s sixth stage will see riders travel 189 kilometers (117 miles) from Tortosa to Reus.

The week-long race in northeastern Spain ends Sunday in Barcelona.

Greg Van Avermaet wins E3 Harelbeke after three-man sprint

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HARELBEKE, Belgium — Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet came out on top of a three-man sprint to win the E3 Harelbeke as Belgian riders secured a 1-2-3 finish in the one-day cobbled race on Friday.

Van Avermaet edged former world champion Philippe Gilbert. Oliver Naesen completed the podium.

Tom Boonen broke up the peloton when he attacked on the Taaienberg hill. A small group followed, and the Belgian trio pulled away on the steep cobbled slopes of the Oude Kwaremont, and stayed ahead all the way to the finish.

The Belgians sized each other carefully in the final kilometer. Naesen ignited the sprint 250 meters from the line. He made his move too soon, and Van Avermaet caught him with ease, then resisted Gilbert’s response to claim his first win in the E3.

It was Van Avermaet’s second important win this season following his success in the Het Nieuwsblad in February.

Gilbert, who was runner-up to Yves Lampaert in the Dwars doo Vlaanderen race midweek, looked strong in the finale but maybe chose too big a gear, failing to catch his rival.

“It gives me a lot of confidence for Flanders,” Van Avermaet said, referring to the Tour of Flanders, the region’s big race on April 2.

The race was marred by crashes, and Tony Gallopin of France was forced to withdraw with a suspected left wrist injury. His Lotto Soudal team said he would be taken to hospital for a medical checkup. World champion Peter Sagan was also caught up in a crash 42 kilometers from the finish but appeared uninjured.