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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.

2019 Tour will honor 1st victory of 5-time champion Merckx

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BRUSSELS (AP) The start of the 2019 Tour de France will be all about honoring Eddy Merckx in his hometown of Brussels.

Merckx, known as “The Cannibal” for his ferocious taste for victory, won the first of his five Tours in 1969. Half a century later, the Belgian great still sees it as one of the major accomplishments for a cyclist generally considered to be the greatest ever.

“I wore the yellow jersey 96 times. It is the best memory of my career. It still gives me goosebumps,” Merckx said during Tuesday’s presentation of the Grand Depart – the opening weekend of the three-week Tour.

Merckx also won a record 34 Tour stages and is among four riders who won the Tour a record five times. French riders Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, and Spanish great Miguel Indurain are the others.

Tour organizers said it will be the second time the race will set off from the Belgian capital, which hosted the race’s Grand Depart in 1958.

The 2019 race will also mark 100 years since the race leader’s yellow jersey was created.

When it comes to the first two stages on July 6-7, the iconic Wall of Geraardsbergen climb should take center stage.

The 192-kilometer (119-mile) first stage of the Tour will have the Wall, for decades the toughest climb in the Ronde of Flanders classic. The Wall will come early but the stage, which makes a big loop south of Brussels, is still set up for a sprint finish close to the royal palace.

It will also have its stretch of famed Flemish cobblestones and will pass through the hometown of soccer player Eden Hazard.

The second stage will be a 28-kilometer team time trial through the Belgian capital along its wide-open boulevards. The riders will also pass by St. Pieters-Woluwe in suburban Brussels, where Merckx lived as a child and where he got to pull on his first yellow jersey.

From Brussels, it is an easy trek south into nearby France for the rest of the race.

Peter Sagan wins prelude to Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Three-time world road racing champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia made an outstanding start to the 2018 cycling season Sunday when he won the People’s Choice Classic, a prelude to the first World Tour event of the season, the Tour Down Under.

Sagan beat star sprinters Andre Greipel of Germany and Caleb Ewan of Australia in a bunch sprint to win the 50.6 kilometer (31.4 mile) race over 22 laps of a street course in central Adelaide.

The win means Sagan will wear the tour leader’s ocher jersey in the first stage of the six stage Tour Down Under on Tuesday. Sunday’s race does not count toward general classification.

Ewan won the race in each of the past two years and Greipel is the only three-time winner. The 132-strong field that lined up for the race Sunday included seven former winners.