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.

2019 Tour will honor 1st victory of 5-time champion Merckx

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BRUSSELS (AP) The start of the 2019 Tour de France will be all about honoring Eddy Merckx in his hometown of Brussels.

Merckx, known as “The Cannibal” for his ferocious taste for victory, won the first of his five Tours in 1969. Half a century later, the Belgian great still sees it as one of the major accomplishments for a cyclist generally considered to be the greatest ever.

“I wore the yellow jersey 96 times. It is the best memory of my career. It still gives me goosebumps,” Merckx said during Tuesday’s presentation of the Grand Depart – the opening weekend of the three-week Tour.

Merckx also won a record 34 Tour stages and is among four riders who won the Tour a record five times. French riders Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, and Spanish great Miguel Indurain are the others.

Tour organizers said it will be the second time the race will set off from the Belgian capital, which hosted the race’s Grand Depart in 1958.

The 2019 race will also mark 100 years since the race leader’s yellow jersey was created.

When it comes to the first two stages on July 6-7, the iconic Wall of Geraardsbergen climb should take center stage.

The 192-kilometer (119-mile) first stage of the Tour will have the Wall, for decades the toughest climb in the Ronde of Flanders classic. The Wall will come early but the stage, which makes a big loop south of Brussels, is still set up for a sprint finish close to the royal palace.

It will also have its stretch of famed Flemish cobblestones and will pass through the hometown of soccer player Eden Hazard.

The second stage will be a 28-kilometer team time trial through the Belgian capital along its wide-open boulevards. The riders will also pass by St. Pieters-Woluwe in suburban Brussels, where Merckx lived as a child and where he got to pull on his first yellow jersey.

From Brussels, it is an easy trek south into nearby France for the rest of the race.

Peter Sagan wins prelude to Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Three-time world road racing champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia made an outstanding start to the 2018 cycling season Sunday when he won the People’s Choice Classic, a prelude to the first World Tour event of the season, the Tour Down Under.

Sagan beat star sprinters Andre Greipel of Germany and Caleb Ewan of Australia in a bunch sprint to win the 50.6 kilometer (31.4 mile) race over 22 laps of a street course in central Adelaide.

The win means Sagan will wear the tour leader’s ocher jersey in the first stage of the six stage Tour Down Under on Tuesday. Sunday’s race does not count toward general classification.

Ewan won the race in each of the past two years and Greipel is the only three-time winner. The 132-strong field that lined up for the race Sunday included seven former winners.