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Philippe Gilbert wins Tour of Flanders

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OUDENAARDE, Belgium (AP) Veteran Belgian rider Philippe Gilbert clinched his first win at the Tour of Flanders with a brilliant solo breakaway as the pre-race favorites failed to impress on Sunday.

The 34-year-old Gilbert made the decisive break some 55 kilometers (34 miles) from the finish and held off chasing riders. Peter Sagan, last year’s winner and among the favorites again, crashed 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) out as he went in pursuit of Gilbert.

Gilbert, a winner of nine stages on the Tour de France, Spanish Vuelta and Italian Giro, completed the 260-kilometer (161-mile) trek in just over 6 hours, 23 minutes.

As he crossed the line in Oudenaarde, the ecstatic Gilbert thumped his chest repeatedly and then climbed off his bike before raising it aloft to celebrate one of his best career wins.

Belgian rider Greg Van Avermaet finished second after holding off Dutchman Niki Terpstra in a sprint to the line.

Van Avermaet, the Olympic road champion, entered the race in great form. He recently won the Gent-Wevelgem and E3 Harelbeke classics, adding to his victory last month in Het Nieuwsblad. But he and Terpstra were nearly 30 seconds behind Gilbert.

The race, also known as De Ronde, is part of five high-profile classics along with Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro di Lombardia. It features 18 short but punishing climbs and five cobblestone sections.

Paris-Roubaix, known as the “Hell of the North” for its treacherous cobbles, is next Sunday and sees four-time winner Tom Boonen competing in the final race of his career before retiring.

The 36-year-old Boonen wanted to sign off from the Tour of Flanders with a fourth win in front of his adoring home fans, but was happy to help his Quick-Step Floors teammate Gilbert claim the win, five years after Gilbert last competed in the race.

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.