Kittel swerves out of the way and Cavendish gets win No. 4

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VILLARS-LES-DOMBES, France (AP) Mark Cavendish approached the finish line with so much speed that German rival Marcel Kittel had to swerve out of the way.

The “Manx Missile” easily sprinted to his fourth stage victory in the Tour de France on Saturday.

Finishing in the main pack during the 14th stage, Chris Froome had little trouble holding onto the yellow jersey.

It was Cavendish’s 30th career win in the Tour, putting him within four of Eddy Merckx’s record. The British sprinter held up four fingers after crossing the line.

Kittel threw up his arm in protest when Cavendish passed him.

“Kittel had already lost and stopped his effort. He had lost his focus. Maybe Cavendish swerved a bit, but it’s nothing,” retired sprinter Laurent Jalabert said.

Alexander Kristoff, a Norwegian with Katusha, crossed second, and world champion Peter Sagan was third.

Kittel came fifth.

“Cavendish is just faster right now,” Kristoff said.

The peloton stopped for a minute of silence at the start of the stage in honor of the 84 victims of the truck attack in Nice. Froome, French champion Arthur Vichot, and other leaders of the Tour took their helmets off and stood still at the start line.

It was the first of three days of national mourning in France, and fans waved the country’s flag all along the 208.5-kilometer (130-mile) route from Montelimar to the bird sanctuary of Parc des Oiseaux in Villars-Les-Dombes near Lyon.

Cavendish’s personal record for wins in one Tour was six in 2009. His performance in this race has come as somewhat of a surprise, considering that he has been slowed by injuries in recent seasons.

But Cavendish seems rejuvenated after joining the South African squad Team Dimension Data for this season.

Froome remained 1:47 ahead of second-place Bauke Mollema and 2:45 in front of third-place Adam Yates in the overall standings.

Four riders – Martin Elmiger of Switzerland, Alex Howes of the United States, Jeremy Roy of France, and Cesare Benedetti of Italy – formed an early breakaway and opened up an advantage of 4 1/2 minutes before falling apart in the final kilometers.

Known as a “transfer stage” because it was a lengthy leg that moved the peloton from one region to another to set up the ensuing mountain tests, the route took riders by fields of grain and sunflowers amid winds exceeding 35 kph (22 mph).

The stage started 15 minutes early because of concerns over a strong headwind and concluded with a three-kilometer straight directly into the wind.

Matti Breschel, a Danish rider with Cannondale, crashed midway through the stage, and was reported to have broken his collarbone.

The Tour enters the Alps on Sunday, a 160-kilometer (99-mile) leg from Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz featuring six climbs, including the beyond-category Grand Colombier.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Quintana reclaims pink jersey with 2 stages to go in Giro

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PIANCAVALLO, Italy — Nairo Quintana reclaimed the pink jersey from Tom Dumoulin with two stages to go in the Giro d’Italia on Friday, setting up what could be a tense finale in Milan on Sunday.

Dumoulin couldn’t keep up with his main rivals in the final uphill finish of the three-week race and trails Quintana, the 2014 winner from Colombia, by 38 seconds.

Two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali is third overall, 43 seconds behind Quintana.

With Thibaut Pinot of France fourth overall, 53 seconds back, the top four are grouped within less than a minute.

“It’s pretty complicated. We have to adapt the strategy day-by-day,” Quintana said.

Spanish rider Mikel Landa won the 19th stage in a breakaway, finally tasting victory after two second-place finishes and one third-place result.

Landa required nearly five hours to complete the 191-kilometer (119-mile) route from San Candido to Piancavallo. He finished nearly two minutes ahead of Rui Costa, with Stage 17 winner Pierre Rolland crossing third.

On Thursday, Dumoulin criticized the tactics of Quintana and Nibali, saying they were merely racing to make him lose – remarks that earned a sharp rebuke from Nibali.

Before Friday’s stage, Dumoulin apologized to Nibali and the pair shook hands.

If anything, Dumoulin’s comments appeared to have motivated Quintana and Nibali, who temporarily dropped Dumoulin on a downhill section midway through Friday’s stage.

While the Dutchman caught up on the ensuing Sella Chianzutan climb, he didn’t have the legs to keep up on the 15.4-kilometer climb to Piancavallo, which began at an average gradient of nearly 10 percent.

“I had bad legs from the start and I made a rookie mistake at the beginning, sitting at the back of the bunch on the downhill,” Dumoulin said.

“In the final I tried to limit my losses and I did that very well. My team saved me a couple of times, so I have to thank them. Otherwise it would have been a much worse day. Bad legs today, but I hope they’ll be better tomorrow.”

Quintana wore pink for one day after winning Stage 9. Dumoulin then took control by dominating a time trial in Stage 10 and had led ever since.

Quintana has also finished on the Tour de France podium three times.

The penultimate stage on Saturday is the last mountainous leg, a 190-kilometer (118-mile) route from Pordenone to Asiago featuring two first-category climbs – a long 24-kilometer ascent to Monte Grappa and a shorter but steeper 14-kilometer rise to Foza.

The 100th Giro ends on Sunday with an individual time trial from Monza to Milan.

“Tomorrow there will be another important stage and then I’ll give it all in the time trial,” Quintana said.

Lance Armstrong announces engagement to Hansen

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AUSTIN, Texas — Cyclist Lance Armstrong has announced his engagement to longtime partner Anna Hansen.

The couple has been together nearly a decade and have two children. Armstrong announced Wednesday on social media that he’d popped the question and posted a picture of the two of them on a boat on Lake Austin.

Armstrong was previously married to the former Kristin Richard, with whom he has three children. He also was previously engaged to singer Sheryl Crow before his relationship with Hansen.

Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times from 1999-2005 but those titles were later stripped away after revelations of performance-enhancing drug use.