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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.”

Van Avermaet wins Gent-Wevelgem for two victories in three days

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GENT, Belgium (AP) Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet won his second race in three days Sunday, beating fellow Belgian Jens Keukeleire in a two-man sprint finish to take the Gent-Wevelgem classic.

World champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who won last year’s race, finished third.

The 249-kilometer (154.7-mile) race through Belgium included two ascents of the steep, cobbled Kemmelberg hill, one of the iconic climbs of the spring classics season.

Last year’s race was overshadowed by the death of Belgian rider Antoine Demoitie after a fall.

Sagan fell Friday in the E3 Harelbeke, which Van Avermaet also won to add to his victory last month in Het Nieuwsblad.

Alejandro Valverde wins his second Tour of Catalonia

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Alejandro Valverde of Spain won his second Tour of Catalonia on Sunday.

Valverde secured the victory by finishing first in the 139-kilometer (86-mile) seventh stage, perfectly timing his final sprint at a hilltop overlooking Barcelona.

He finished the weeklong race more than one minute ahead of Alberto Contador and Marc Soler, who closed out the all-Spanish podium.

Valverde won despite receiving a one-minute time penalty Wednesday after race officials ruled that some Movistar riders pushed one another in Tuesday’s team time trial.

The 36-year-old Valverde had won two other stages.

Valverde also won the race in northeastern Spain in 2009, the same year he clinched the Spanish Vuelta for his only Grand Tour title.

Three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome fell out of contention during Saturday’s stage.