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

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.