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Wiggins says he did not seek ‘unfair advantage’

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LONDON — Former Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins said he needed permission to use a banned substance to treat his asthma to ensure he was “back on a level playing field.”

The British rider’s confidential medical information featured in one of the leaks resulting from an alleged Russian-led cyberattack on the World Anti-Doping Agency database. The eight-time Olympic medalist was given three injections of an anti-inflammatory drug between 2011 and 2013.

Wiggins insisted earlier this month that there was “nothing new” about his need for asthma medication but he has now given an interview to the BBC to further defend his need for a “Therapeutic Use Exemption” that allows athletes to use otherwise-banned substances because of a verified medical need.

“This was to cure a medical condition,” Wiggins said in the interview, which was broadcast Sunday. “This wasn’t about trying to find a way to gain an unfair advantage. This was about putting myself back on a level playing field in order to compete at the highest level.”

The treatment was approved by cycling authorities and there is no suggestion any rules have been broken, but the former Team Sky rider has still come under scrutiny over his use of TUEs.

“Unfortunately when you’re the best at what you do sometimes comes scrutiny,” Wiggins said, referring to his team. “Especially in a sport that has a tainted history.”

Wiggins became the first British rider to win the Tour de France in 2012 as part of Team Sky.

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.