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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.”

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.