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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 The Colombian was withdrawn from racing by Team Sky in April after concerns over his biological data emerged, but he has since been cleared by the International Cycling Union (UCI).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.”

Van Avermaet wins Gent-Wevelgem for two victories in three days

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GENT, Belgium (AP) Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet won his second race in three days Sunday, beating fellow Belgian Jens Keukeleire in a two-man sprint finish to take the Gent-Wevelgem classic.

World champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who won last year’s race, finished third.

The 249-kilometer (154.7-mile) race through Belgium included two ascents of the steep, cobbled Kemmelberg hill, one of the iconic climbs of the spring classics season.

Last year’s race was overshadowed by the death of Belgian rider Antoine Demoitie after a fall.

Sagan fell Friday in the E3 Harelbeke, which Van Avermaet also won to add to his victory last month in Het Nieuwsblad.

Alejandro Valverde wins his second Tour of Catalonia

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Alejandro Valverde of Spain won his second Tour of Catalonia on Sunday.

Valverde secured the victory by finishing first in the 139-kilometer (86-mile) seventh stage, perfectly timing his final sprint at a hilltop overlooking Barcelona.

He finished the weeklong race more than one minute ahead of Alberto Contador and Marc Soler, who closed out the all-Spanish podium.

Valverde won despite receiving a one-minute time penalty Wednesday after race officials ruled that some Movistar riders pushed one another in Tuesday’s team time trial.

The 36-year-old Valverde had won two other stages.

Valverde also won the race in northeastern Spain in 2009, the same year he clinched the Spanish Vuelta for his only Grand Tour title.

Three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome fell out of contention during Saturday’s stage.