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Greg Van Avermaet wins E3 Harelbeke after three-man sprint

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HARELBEKE, Belgium — Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet came out on top of a three-man sprint to win the E3 Harelbeke as Belgian riders secured a 1-2-3 finish in the one-day cobbled race on Friday.

Van Avermaet edged former world champion Philippe Gilbert. Oliver Naesen completed the podium.

Tom Boonen broke up the peloton when he attacked on the Taaienberg hill. A small group followed, and the Belgian trio pulled away on the steep cobbled slopes of the Oude Kwaremont, and stayed ahead all the way to the finish.

The Belgians sized each other carefully in the final kilometer. Naesen ignited the sprint 250 meters from the line. He made his move too soon, and Van Avermaet caught him with ease, then resisted Gilbert’s response to claim his first win in the E3.

It was Van Avermaet’s second important win this season following his success in the Het Nieuwsblad in February.

Gilbert, who was runner-up to Yves Lampaert in the Dwars doo Vlaanderen race midweek, looked strong in the finale but maybe chose too big a gear, failing to catch his rival.

“It gives me a lot of confidence for Flanders,” Van Avermaet said, referring to the Tour of Flanders, the region’s big race on April 2.

The race was marred by crashes, and Tony Gallopin of France was forced to withdraw with a suspected left wrist injury. His Lotto Soudal team said he would be taken to hospital for a medical checkup. World champion Peter Sagan was also caught up in a crash 42 kilometers from the finish but appeared uninjured.

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.