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.

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.