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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.

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.