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Grand Tour organizers reduce number of riders for 2017

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PARIS — Grand Tour organizers have decided to reduce the number of riders at their races in a move aimed at improving safety and increasing competition.

The Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Spanish Vuelta organizers said in a joint statement Friday that the number of riders per team will decrease to eight, instead of the nine currently at their three-week races.

The decision taken by ASO – which organizes the Tour de France and Vuelta – RCS Sport and one-day races organizers Flanders Classics will come into effect for the 2017 season. It will also see a reduction of riders at the other races they organize, with teams reduced to seven riders instead of eight.

Following a meeting of the international association of cycling race organizers, they said they want to improve safety by reducing traffic on roads and make it more difficult for a team to dominate a race. The numbers of teams per race will remain unchanged.

The organizers believe that reducing the number of riders will help open up the races so that they are less controlled. Three-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome’s Sky Team has been the dominant team in the peloton recently, locking down the race in the mountains and reducing suspense at cycling’s biggest race.

“This decision responds to two-pronged objective: the first being to improve the safety conditions for the riders with a smaller peloton on roads equipped with more and more street furniture,” the organizers said in their statement. “The second, which is a fortunate consequence of the first, is to make it more difficult to dominate a race as well as enhance conditions for events to offer better racing for cycling fans.”

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.