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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.

World champ Peter Sagan to race in Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) Three-time world road race champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia has confirmed he will compete in the Tour Down Under in January, the opening World Tour event of the season.

Sagan won the world title last month for the third straight year, becoming the first cyclist to do so. He competed in the Tour Down Under for the first time last year, finishing second on three stages behind Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan.

Sagan, who rides for the BORA-hansgrohe team, said the six-stage Tour Down Under is “the perfect start to the UCI World Tour season each year … a challenging and tough course, warm weather and the passionate fans that cheer for us day in day out no matter what.”

Former Olympic cycling champ fired after positive drug test

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) Former Olympic road cycling champion Samuel Sanchez, who returned a positive doping test in August, had his B-sample confirmed Wednesday and was promptly fired by the BMC Racing Team.

Sanchez’s out-of-competition test revealed growth hormone-releasing peptide 2, or GHRP-2, a drug that increases a body’s level of growth hormone. Several cyclists have tested positive for the drug, among them Italian rider Stefano Pirazzi, who was given a four-year ban earlier this week.

The U.S.-based BMC Team said in a statement Wednesday that it was adhering to its zero-tolerance policy toward doping by terminating the Spaniard’s contract “with immediate effect.”

The 39-year-old Sanchez, who had been provisionally suspended, won gold at the 2008 Beijing Games.