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After Giro crash, Thomas back to support Froome in Tour

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PARIS (AP) Chris Froome will have support rider Geraint Thomas alongside him again as he pursues a fourth Tour de France title in five years.

Thomas opened the year aiming for victory in the Giro d’Italia but was forced to abandon that race because of injuries sustained in a crash caused by a police motorbike.

Thomas recently returned in the Route du Sud and gives Team Sky a second overall option if Froome struggles.

Also named to Sky’s squad Thursday were: Sergio Henao, Vasil Kiryienka, Christian Knees, Michal Kwiatkowski, Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve and Luke Rowe.

Landa was injured in the same Giro crash as Thomas but stayed in the race, winning the 19th stage and posting three more podium finishes to claim the mountains classification.

Henao and Landa should also escort Froome in the mountains.

Froome won the Tour in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

“Aiming for that fourth victory has given me a lot of motivation,” Froome said. “To me, each Tour tells a different story. Every Tour is a different battle in terms of getting that yellow jersey and then trying to hold on to it.”

Froome preceded each of his Tour victories by winning the Criterium du Dauphine but he finished only fourth in the warm-up race this year – with former Sky teammate Richie Porte taking victory. But the Kenyan-born British rider believes he’s still the man to beat.

“We’re ready as a team and I can’t wait for the Tour to start now. Honestly, I just love it. It’s a feeling that you don’t get from any other race,” Froome said.

Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain share the record with five Tour wins each – after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven victories for doping.

“To win the Tour once is a huge achievement, but to win it a fourth time would be remarkable,” Sky team principal Dave Brailsford said. “We’ve selected a strong and experienced lineup who will support (Froome), and we’ll be looking to use the strength of the team to our advantage.”

The Tour begins July 1 in Duesseldorf and concludes in Paris three weeks later.

Cycling’s top riders set for Tour of California next month

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The top men’s and women’s teams will compete next month in the Amgen Tour of California, the premier U.S. cycling race.

The men will cover 645 miles over seven stages from Long Beach to Sacramento from May 13 to May 19. The women will have three of the top five teams for their three-day, 187-mile race that starts May 17 in Elk Grove.

Race owner AEG announced Thursday that Pete Sagan will ride for the BORA-hansgrohe team while Mark Cavendish will go for Team Dimension Data and be joined by Rafal Majka.

Tony Gallopin of AG2R La Mondiale is in the men’s field. So is LottoNL-Jumbo’s Nielson Powless, the race’s best young rider in 2016.

The women feature 2016 champion Megan Guarnier of USA Cycling National Team, Katie Hall of UnitedHealthcare and Kasia Niewiadoma of Canyon/SCRAM.

Niki Terpstra wins Tour of Flanders

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OUDENAARDE, Belgium — Niki Terpstra continued his fine form by winning the Tour of Flanders classic with a well-timed late attack on Sunday, becoming the first Dutch rider in more than 30 years to win the race.

Terpstra caught a mini-breakaway group of three riders on the final climb, and the Quick-Step Floors rider moved too far ahead to be caught. Danish rider Mads Pedersen finished second and Belgian rider Philippe Gilbert – last year’s winner – was third.

“It’s a dream come true. Winning Paris-Roubaix (in 2014) and now the Tour of Flanders,” Terpstra said. “Those two races were always a big dream for me when I was young kid. I was already crazy about those two races, I can’t describe how happy I am.”

The previous Dutchman to win the Tour of Flanders was Adri van der Poel in 1986, and this was Terpstra’s second classics win in quick succession. He also won the E3 Harelbeke on March 23.

As he neared the line in Oudenaarde, after 263 kilometers (163 miles) of grueling riding in tricky conditions, Terpstra looked round three times to see where Pedersen was. Finally, he knew victory was assured and raised his arms in the air as he free-wheeled the last 20 meters.

Along with the rain and chilly temperatures, riders weren’t helped by a stray car driving on the course in the Flemish town of Aalst, about 60 kilometers into the race.

Startled riders cautiously navigated around the slow-moving gray car, or moved aside. After a few moments, the driver finally managed to get off the course.

The race, also known as De Ronde, is one of five higher-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.

Terpstra caught the front three – which included Pedersen – on the final grueling Paterberg cobble climb and opened up a comfortable lead.

Earlier, a crash on a slippery road took down some 10 riders, sending one of them rolling into a roadside ditch. It was similar to a crash during last year’s race, which took down 2016 winner Peter Sagan. He was not caught up in it this time.

Sagan, who won the Gent-Wevelgem classic for the third time last Sunday, finished sixth.

With 40 kilometers left, the front trio of Pedersen and Dutch pair Sebastian Langeveld and Dylan van Baarle led by about 30 seconds.

Approaching the final 25 kilometers, Italian rider Vicenzo Nibali, the 2014 Tour de France champion, launched a surprise attack. But he did not get far before being caught by the pack.

After catching the front three, Terpstra opened up a lead of 40 seconds. Sagan attacked with 16 kilometers left, deciding it was time to chase him down. But he realized it was a futile chase and eased up with eight kilometers left.

Paris-Roubaix, known as the “Hell of the North” for its even more challenging cobbles, is next Sunday. Last year, Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet overtook Zdenek Stybar just before the line in a thrilling finish.

But Terpstra will be the rider to stop.