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Tejay van Garderen leads Tour of Catalonia; Alejandro Valverde wins Stage 3

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LA MOLINA, Spain — Alejandro Valverde won the third stage of the Tour of Catalonia but lost the overall lead to American rider Tejay van Garderen after the Spaniard’s Movistar team was penalized on Wednesday.

Valverde beat Daniel Martin of Ireland in the final meters of the 188-kilometers (116-mile) stage from Mataro to La Molina, but fell to fourth in the overall standings because of a team sanction handed out earlier in the day.

Valverde and the rest of the Movistar riders were penalized one minute because some of them pushed each other in Tuesday’s team time trial in Banyoles. Judges initially penalized only three riders, including stage winner Jose Joaquin Rojas, but eventually decided to extend the punishment to the rest of the team.

Van Garderen, who had loudly complained about Movistar on Tuesday, finished eighth on Wednesday and opened up a lead of 41 seconds over BMC Racing Team teammate Samuel Sanchez of Spain.

Valverde is 45 seconds off the lead.

“The team did great,” Valverde said. “All I had to do was sprint at the end.”

Tour de France winner Chris Froome was four seconds behind Valverde in the overall standings.

“I’m here to suffer this week, to gain from hard racing and soak it all up,” Froome said.

The week-long race in northeastern Spain concludes on Sunday in Barcelona.

Riders on Thursday face a stage of 194 kilometers (120 miles) from Llivia to Igualada.

Valverde dedicates his Liege-Bastogne-Liege win to Scarponi

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LIEGE, Belgium (AP) Spaniard Alejandro Valverde dedicated his win at the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic on Sunday to Italian cyclist Michele Scarponi, who died after a collision with a van while training on Saturday at the age of 37.

Valverde caught Irishman Dan Martin about 200 meters (yards) from the end and comfortably beat him in a sprint to the line. Polish rider Michal Kwiatkowski finished in third place, crossing three seconds behind them on the 258-kilometer (160-mile) route.

Valverde is one of the best classics riders in cycling history and his latest win comes four days after winning the Fleche Wallonne (Walloon Arrow) for a record fifth time. Martin was second in that race as well, which was also run over hilly terrain.

Valverde, who turns 37 on Tuesday, has also secured victories at the Tour of Andalusia, Tour of Basque Country and Tour of Catalonia this season. His win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege equaled Italian Moreno Argentin’s tally and is one behind Belgian great Eddy Merckx’s record.

But Valverde’s mind was far away from his own achievements.

“My first words are to dedicate this victory to Michele Scarponi, who was a great friend of mine,” a tearful Valverde said. “My prize money will go to his family.”

A minute’s applause for Scarponi, the Giro d’Italia winner in 2011, was held prior to the start of the race.

Valverde wins Fleche Wallonne for record 5th time

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HUY, Belgium (AP) Alejandro Valverde of Spain won the Fleche Wallonne (Walloon Arrow) for a record fifth time after a fourth straight title in the Belgian classic on Wednesday.

Valverde continued his excellent form with an attack that was unanswered by his rivals 250 meters from the finish in the brutal Mur de Huy, one of cycling’s most difficult climbs.

Daniel Martin of Ireland was second and Dylan Teuns of Belgium completed the podium.

Valverde, who will turn 37 next week, last year became the first rider to win the Fleche Wallonne four times. He also won the race in 2006, 2014 and 2015.

The Spanish rider has been enjoying a great start to the season with victories at the Tour of Andalusia, Tour of Basque Country and Tour of Catalonia.

The Mur de Huy has a 26 percent gradient at its steepest point, and Valverde knows it perfectly. Right from the start of the climb, he remained well-positioned at the front and waited for the right time to surge ahead with a few hundred meters left.

The major spring classics end with Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege race. Valverde will be among the favorites, having already won it three times. The race is run over similarly hilly terrain in southern Belgium.