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Sky names strong team for Froome at Tour de France

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PARIS —¬†Defending champion Chris Froome will enjoy the support of a Team Sky squad featuring strong climbers at the Tour de France next month.

Aiming to win cycling’s showpiece race for a third time, Froome will be joined by Sergio Henao, Vasil Kiryienka, Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve, Wout Poels, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas on the roads of France this summer.

The Tour starts on July 2 and finishes on the Champs-Elysees three weeks later.

“I feel in good shape coming into the race this year and am fortunate to have a strong team around me, both on and off the bike,” said Froome, the 2013 and 2015 champion.

The 3,519-kilometer race features 28 mountain passes this year, as well as two individual time trials, a route that perfectly suits all-rounder Froome.

Among those expected to play a key role in protecting the British rider in the Pyrenees and the Alps are Henao, Landa, Poels, Nieve and Thomas.

Henao helped Froome to success at both Paris-Nice and the Criterium du Dauphine this season and will be making his debut at the Tour. The Colombian was withdrawn from racing by Team Sky in April after concerns over his biological data emerged, but he has since been cleared by the International Cycling Union (UCI).

Landa, who was the Team Sky leader at the Giro d’Italia but was forced to withdraw because of illness, will also compete in his first Tour.

Poels played an important role last year at l’Alpe d’Huez to help Froome resist Nairo Quintana’s attacks while the talented Thomas is widely regarded as a future Grand Tour winner.

“Every Tour is different, so that means choosing the team we believe is best equipped to deal with the many different challenges of this race,” Team Sky director Dave Brailsford said. “We have selected a talented group of riders with Chris as the leader once again. I know they will do everything they can to help him try to win yellow.”

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.