De Gendt defies windy conditions for prestigious Ventoux win

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MONT VENTOUX, France (AP) Thomas De Gendt hates riding in the wind. With gusts reaching 130 kph at the Mont Ventoux on Thursday, the Belgian rider was worried he might not even reach the finish inside the time limit.

He ended up claiming the biggest win of his career.

De Gendt won the wind-shortened and chaotic 12th stage of the Tour de France on the “Giant of Provence” on Thursday after getting into an early breakaway and easily sprinting past fellow Belgian Serge Pauwels on the steep slopes.

“Usually these stages are the stages I’m the most afraid of because of the time limit,” De Gendt said. “With the wind I was afraid I could drop in the last group and miss the cut for the time limit because I can’t ride in the wind.”

Organizers moved the finish line six kilometers (3 1/2 miles) down the road to the Chalet Reynard because of the wind. It was still a grueling 10-kilometer (six-mile) climb featuring several sections with gradients exceeding 10 percent.

De Gendt, who finished third at the Giro d’Italia in 2012 after posting another prestigious victory at the Stelvio Pass that year, and Pauwels fought for victory from a breakaway group that set off only a few kilometers after the start.

They built a maximum lead of more than 18 minutes before Etixx-Quick Step riders accelerated and split the bunch. De Gendt, who rides for the Lotto Soudal team, benefited from the unexpected help of teammate Andre Greipel, a star sprinter with limited abilities in mountain stages.

After bringing bottles to De Gendt throughout the stage, Greipel attacked at the foot of the Ventoux in a move that forced other riders to show their cards.

“Immediately, we saw who the stronger guys were,” De Gendt said. “And during the stage, he also did most of the pulling in the leading group. Today, he tried to do a little bit more for me. It shows how great Andre Greipel is ready to work for smaller riders.”

De Gendt then attacked with four kilometers left and outsprinted Pauwels at Chalet Reynard to seize the best climber’s polka-dot jersey. A few kilometers behind, race leader Chris Froome was involved in crash caused by a TV motorbike but was allowed to keep the yellow jersey after the Tour race jury ruled he lost time in unfair circumstances.

De Gendt said his next goal will be to win a stage at the Spanish Vuelta in order to complete a full set of Grand Tour stage victories.

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.