Chris Froome keeps lead intact, set to secure third Tour de France title

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MORZINE, France — Chris Froome kept his lead intact during the final day of climbing in the Alps on Saturday and was poised to secure his third Tour de France title in four years.

Spanish rider Jon Izagirre won the rainy penultimate stage by attacking on the slippery descent from the Col de Joux Plane into Morzine.

Froome, the Kenyan-born British rider who won the Tour in 2013 and 2015, eased up just before the line in the 20th stage and lost a few seconds to his main rivals.

Still, he ended the day with an advantage of 4 minutes, 5 seconds over Romain Bardet of France, with Nairo Quintana of Colombia third, 4:21 behind.

Froome let out a thin smile when he reached the finish as his Sky teammates cheered him on.

The Tour concludes Sunday in Paris with a mostly ceremonial finish on the Champs-Elysees.

Froome wore bandages on his right knee and elbow after crashing on a slippery descent a day earlier. He was never in trouble in this stage, though, as his top lieutenants at Team Sky escorted him up and down each of the day’s climbs.

On the final descent, which had a vertical drop of more than 700 meters (2,300 feet), Froome was extremely careful.

Jarlinson Pantano of Colombia finished second in the stage, 19 seconds behind Izagirre, while 2014 champion Vincenzo Nibali crossed third, 42 seconds back. All three riders were part of an early breakaway.

Izagirre had enough time to clap his hands together in celebration as he crossed the line.

A minute of silence was held at the start of the stage to mourn the nine victims of Friday’s shooting in Munich. Froome and the other leaders of the Tour were joined by German national champion Andre Greipel at the front of the peloton as riders removed their helmets and stood silently.

Froome will likely be sipping Champagne in Sunday’s 113-kilometer (70-mile) leg from Chantilly to Paris, which will probably be decided in a mass sprint.

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.