Van Avermaet takes 1st mountain stage and yellow jersey

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LE LIORAN, France — Belgian rider Greg van Avermaet won the first mountain stage of the Tour de France with an audacious solo attack in the Massif Central on Wednesday and also claimed the overall leader’s yellow jersey.

The BMC rider was part of an early nine-man breakaway and he methodically whittled down the group before accelerating past fellow Belgian Thomas De Gendt with 17 kilometers (10 miles) to go on the penultimate climb of the day.

Defending champion Chris Froome and two-time runner-up Nairo Quintana finished in the main pack, while Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali struggled.

Van Avermaet also won a stage in last year’s Tour and is known as a specialist at single-day classics and short stage races, having won Paris-Tours in 2011 and the Tirreno-Adriatico this year.

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.