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Sergio Henao escapes Alberto Contador to claim Paris-Nice title

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NICE, France (AP) History cruelly repeated itself for Alberto Contador as the Spaniard missed out on a third Paris-Nice victory by just two seconds on Sunday.

Colombian rider Sergio Henao clung on to his dwindling overnight lead to win the biggest race of his career.

Last year, Contador lost the race by four seconds.

Contador was in third place overnight – 31 seconds behind Henao – heading into the eighth and final stage, which was the third straight day of tough climbing.

Contador came agonizingly close to adding to his wins from 2007 and 2010. He finished the stage in second place behind countryman David De La Cruz and missed out on the crucial extra seconds of time bonus that a stage win would have given him.

“It was a beautiful race and I’m glad to have played a part in that,” Contador said.

The 34-year-old Contador, a two-time Tour de France champion, felt he may have slightly misjudged when to make his move over the 116-kilometer (72-mile trek). The stage started and ended in the southern city of Nice, with a long downhill finish after the second big climb.

“I attacked from afar but it was a little too far from the finish,” Contador said. “That’s the way I am. I have to try something. I can’t be content with sitting back. I have to take risks on the flat, in the climbs and in the descents.”

The 29-year-old Henao crossed the line in the chasing pack, 21 seconds behind Contador and De La Cruz – who clocked the same time as they sprinted to the line in a dramatic finish.

“This is the greatest victory in my career and to win it like this at the last meter of Paris-Nice is simply unbelievable,” Henao said. “I knew I had to suffer until the last minutes but I had to do it for myself and for the greatness of Colombian cycling.”

Countryman Nairo Quintana leads the Tirreno-Adriatico race in Italy after five stages.

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.