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Van Avermaet wins Het Nieuwsblad

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GENT, Belgium — Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet edged a three-man sprint to claim a second consecutive victory in the Het Nieuwsblad, which marks the start of the Spring classics.

For the second year in a row, the Belgian rider was faster than world champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia at the finish line on Saturday.

Another Belgian, Sep Vanmarcke, who took the initiative in the final sprint about 200 meters out, completed the podium.

“It’s an amazing feeling. Last year, my season started here with a big victory and now it’s the same this year,” Van Avermaet said. “It’s nice to come home and to win the first race on home ground.”

The grueling race, which features cobble sections and punishing short climbs, was marred by a big pile-up about 62 kilometers (38.5 miles) from the finish. Two pre-race favorites, veteran Tom Boonen and Alexander Kristoff, fell on the narrow cobbled section. Both were able to resume racing but could not compete for the win, and Boonen ultimately abandoned because of pain in his knee.

With half the peloton trapped behind, Trek-Segafredo riders accelerated on the Taaienberg climb, a move that stretched the leading pack. Sagan attacked again in the Wolvenberg and the group of early breakaway riders was reined in soon after.

“It was really nice to come with three guys to the finish and wonderful that I could finish it off,” Van Avermaet said. “I had confidence from last year that I could win in a sprint to this finish.”

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.