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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.”

Andy Rihs, Swiss owner of cycling, soccer teams, dies at 75

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BERN, Switzerland (AP) Andy Rihs, a Swiss businessman who owned the BMC Racing cycling team and Young Boys soccer club, has died. He was 75.

Rihs died Wednesday in Zurich after “a patient and valiantly endured illness,” the BMC team said Thursday in a statement.

“Our grief is indescribable, but we will carry on his values,” the team said, praising Rihs for his “generosity, his sense of humor, and his infectious laugh.”

Rihs’s death comes with Young Boys close to winning its first Swiss league title in 32 years. Young Boys leads by 11 points with six matches left.

“Andy, thank you for everything. We will miss you,” Young Boys said in a statement.

Rihs’s brother, Hans-Ueli, is also an owner of the club and Stade de Suisse in Bern, known locally as Wankdorf. The stadium staged the 1954 World Cup final.

As BMC owner, Rihs secured a Tour de France title five years after his previous team was involved in a doping scandal. Cadel Evans of Australia wore BMC’s black and red colors to victory in the 2011 Tour.

In 2006, the Rihs-backed Phonak team disbanded after American rider Floyd Landis was stripped of the Tour title.

Cycling’s top riders set for Tour of California next month

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The top men’s and women’s teams will compete next month in the Amgen Tour of California, the premier U.S. cycling race.

The men will cover 645 miles over seven stages from Long Beach to Sacramento from May 13 to May 19. The women will have three of the top five teams for their three-day, 187-mile race that starts May 17 in Elk Grove.

Race owner AEG announced Thursday that Pete Sagan will ride for the BORA-hansgrohe team while Mark Cavendish will go for Team Dimension Data and be joined by Rafal Majka.

Tony Gallopin of AG2R La Mondiale is in the men’s field. So is LottoNL-Jumbo’s Nielson Powless, the race’s best young rider in 2016.

The women feature 2016 champion Megan Guarnier of USA Cycling National Team, Katie Hall of UnitedHealthcare and Kasia Niewiadoma of Canyon/SCRAM.