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Alejandro Valverde eyes Tour of Catalonia title after Chris Froome fades

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REUS, Spain — Chris Froome fell out of contention for the Tour of Catalonia after ceding over 25 minutes to leader Alejandro Valverde during the sixth stage on Saturday.

A group attack that included Valverde’s Movistar broke away early and left Froome behind in the peloton. The three-time Tour de France winner, who entered the stage second in the classification at 21 seconds behind Valverde, was unable to close the gap and faded the rest of the way.

“On the first mountain the peloton broke apart, above all on the descent, and we caught Sky off guard,” Valverde said. “They couldn’t find a way to make up the ground.”

Froome’s Sky team tweeted before the stage was finished that “It’s game over at (hash)VoltaCatalunya.”

Daryl Impey of South Africa edged Valverde in a sprint finish to win the 189-kilometer (117-mile) ride from Tortosa to Reus that crossed snow-covered mountainous terrain in 4 1/2 hours.

Valverde, who took the lead after winning Friday’s stage, increased his advantage to 53 seconds over nearest chaser Alberto Contador.

Valverde leads the race despite being penalized one minute on Wednesday after race officials ruled that some Movistar riders pushed one another on Tuesday during the team time trial.

Valverde can claim a second title at the event if he protects his advantage during Sunday’s 139-kilometer (86-mile) route finishing at a hilltop overlooking Barcelona. He won the weeklong race in northeastern Spain in 2009.

“In theory we shouldn’t have too many difficulties, but I am sure there will be some attacks,” Valverde said about the final stage.

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.