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Howson leads after Day 1 of Herald Sun Tour, Froome sixth

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian cyclist Damien Howson took the overall lead in the Herald Sun Tour after winning the grueling opening Falls Creek stage on Thursday, leaving three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome in sixth place.

Howson leads Orica-Scott teammate Esteban Chaves and Froome by more than a minute. It was the first professional win for Howson, the 2013 under-23 world time-trial champion.

The stage had been billed as a duel between Froome and Chaves, the two best climbers in the field.

But Howson and Froome’s Team Sky teammate Kenny Ellisonde broke clear of the main group midway up the 29-kilometer climb to the finish at Falls Creek that highlighted the 174-kilometer opening stage from Wangaratta.

Once they caught leader Steve Lampier of Britain, the pair continued building a lead. Howson then attacked inside the last three kilometers and won by 32 seconds.

Lampier’s Australian teammate Jai Hindley also had a strong opening day, catching and then passing Ellisonde for second place.

Ellisonde finished third at 47 seconds, while Australian Michael Storer was fourth and Chaves was fifth over the line at a minute and 10 seconds.

Froome was a second further back in sixth spot.

Howson leads Hindley overall by 38 seconds and Ellisonde is third at 53 seconds.

The Tour concludes Sunday with a hilly last stage at Kinglake north of Melbourne.

“Team Sky are one of the world’s strongest teams so I guarantee they are going to throw everything they have (at us),” Howson said. “There’s still a lot of tough stages to come, but I also have a very strong team behind me.”

Facing lawsuit, Armstrong says he ‘loved’ wearing Postal

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AUSTIN, Texas —¬†Former cyclist Lance Armstrong says he “loved” representing the U.S. Postal Service, even as the government sues to get back the millions it spent sponsoring his teams.

After years of legal wrangling, the federal government’s $100 million lawsuit against Armstrong is expected to go to trial later this year. The Postal Service sponsored Armstrong’s team when he was six of his seven Tour de France titles from 1999-2005.

Armstrong later admitted using performance-enhancing drugs and was stripped of those titles.

Speaking on his podcast Tuesday , Armstrong said it was an honor to wear the Postal Service jersey as he competed in Europe and to hear the national anthem played when he won.

Armstrong says the lawsuit can’t “undo all of the good that was done all of those years.” Armstrong claims the government made more money in publicity from the sponsorship than the $32 million it paid his teams.

Russia recruiting Australian cyclist for Olympic team

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MOSCOW — Russia is hoping to recruit former world champion track cyclist Shane Perkins of Australia in a push for medals at the 2020 Olympics.

Perkins said Wednesday in a Facebook statement that he “will now be riding for Russia,” alongside a picture of himself in Russian team gear.

“`The Russian Cycling Federation has given me another opportunity to chase my dreams of Olympic representation in Tokyo 2020 which has special significance to me as my father (Darryl Perkins) raced the Olympics in Tokyo 1964,” he added.

Perkins said his move had the backing of Australian cycling officials. However, Russia said the switch isn’t yet complete.

RCF general secretary Yuri Kucheryavy told Russia’s R-Sport news agency that Perkins was training with Russia’s sprinters recently and “we’re interested in him for the team sprint, where we need a third person,” as well as the keirin.

“We still need to sort everything out officially,” Kucheryavy added.

Perkins has won two gold medals at the track world championships and Olympic individual sprint bronze in 2012, though he didn’t make the team for last year’s games in Rio de Janeiro.

Russia has long been open to naturalizing athletes from neighboring countries but stepped up its program for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, bringing in South Korean speedskater Viktor Ahn and U.S. snowboarder Vic Wild, both of whom won gold medals.

Other Russian recruits include former world boxing champion Roy Jones Jr., who was awarded Russian nationality by a special order of President Vladimir Putin.