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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.”

Jungels wins Stage 15 of Giro; Dumoulin keeps pink jersey

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BERGAMO, Italy — Bob Jungels took a sprint ahead of several overall favorites to win the crash-filled 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Sunday, while Tom Dumoulin had six seconds shaved off his overall lead in the final leg before the high mountains.

Jungels, of Luxembourg with the Quick Step team, surged past Nairo Quintana and Thibaut Pinot at the end of the 199-kilometer (124-mile) route from Valdengo to Bergamo, which contained two categorized climbs shortly before the finish and a shorter climb up cobblestones in Bergamo’s old city.

“It’s never easy to plan an attack like mine today in a stage like this,” Jungels said. “It was more of a classic than a Grand Tour stage. It’s what I needed to win a stage.”

Dumoulin’s lead was cut to 2:41 ahead of Quintana, with Pinot 3:21 back in third.

Not looking to take any unnecessary risks, Dumoulin rode more cautiously through the final kilometers and dropped slightly behind.

Quintana fell while negotiating a corner on a downhill stretch and had to change bikes.

Dumoulin ordered his teammates at the front to slow down and let Quintana catch up.

Tanel Kangert of Astana and Kenny Elissonde of Sky were involved in more serious crashes.

“I didn’t want to take time on Quintana when he crashed because it wasn’t the right way to do it,” Dumoulin said. “Sometimes the race goes on but this was a good moment to wait for him. My legs felt good today but I’m always looking forward to a rest day.”

Jungels wore the overall leader’s pink jersey for four days in the opening week and leads the best young rider classification. It was his first Grand Tour victory.

After the final rest day Monday, Stage 16 on Tuesday is considered the race’s toughest: a lengthy 222-kilometer (138-mile) leg from Rovetta to Bormio that features three strenuous climbs, including the legendary Mortirolo and Stelvio passes.

The 100th Giro concludes with an individual time trial in Milan next Sunday.

Huffman wins stage, Bennett overall at Tour of California

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PASADENA, Calif. (AP) Evan Huffman emerged from the breakaway for the second time this week to win the final stage of the Tour of California, and George Bennett finished safely in the chasing group to win the overall race.

Huffman and Rally Cycling teammate Rob Britton were the main agitators on the fourth stage to Santa Clarita, when they swept the top two spots on the podium. They were at it again Saturday as part of a five-man breakaway that survived to the finish in Pasadena.

Huffman was followed by David Lopez Garcia, Nicolas Edet, Lachlan Morton and Britton, while the chasing group that included all the overall contenders finished 22 seconds behind.

That allowed Bennett to hold off Rafal Majka and Andrew Talansky for the yellow jersey.