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Damien Howson maintains lead after Stage 2 of Herald Sun Tour

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian Damien Howson kept the Herald Sun Tour lead on Friday after overcoming a tire puncture late in the 165.6-kilometer second stage of the four-stage race.

The tire blowout with 20 kilometers to go on the stage from Mount Beauty to Beechworth put Howson on the defensive, but his Orica-Scott teammates dropped back to help him and he did not lose any time to his main rivals.

“Trying to remain calm was pretty difficult, but I had them all around me,” Howson said of his teammates. Mitch Docker gave Howson his front wheel when the Tour leader sustained the puncture.

Three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome’s British teammate Luke Rowe won the stage with a solo breakaway for his first professional stage win since 2012.

It follows teammate Danny van Poppel’s prologue time-trial win, but Froome gained no time on Howson and even went down one place on the overall standings.

Howson retained his 38-second overall lead over compatriot Jai Hindley. Froome stayed one minute and 12 seconds behind Howson, but dropped from fifth to sixth overall.

Froome also showed some racing protocol on the climb, reported by race officials to have eased off the pace and honoring cycling’s unwritten rule not to attack the leader if he had experienced a mechanical problem.

The Tour continues on Saturday with a 167.7-kilometer stage from Benalla to Mitchelton, followed by the concluding stage Sunday at Kinglake north of Melbourne.

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.