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Valverde adds Basque Country title to superb start to season

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EIBAR, Spain — Alejandro Valverde won the Tour of Basque Country after holding off defending champion Alberto Contador in the decisive time trial on Saturday.

Valverde won the six-day race in northern Spain by 17 seconds from Contador, the two-time Tour de France winner.

The win came just two weeks after the 36-year-old Valverde beat Contador and reigning Tour de France champion Chris Froome to claim the Tour of Catalonia.

“There can be no doubt about it, this is the best start to a season of my career,” Valverde said. “With everything that I have won I will head into the classics incredibly calm. If I win one, then I won’t have to race the rest of the year!”

Primoz Roglic won the final stage, a 27-kilometer (17-mile) time trial starting and finishing in Eibar, in 36 minutes. It was the Slovenian’s second stage win this week. Valverde was the next fastest at nine seconds behind, followed by Ion Izagirre and Contador.

Valverde, a Movistar rider, took the lead on the mountainous fifth stage on Friday.

Valverde also won the five-day Tour of Andalusia and single-day Tour of Murcia, also in Spain, this season.

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.