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Tour de France celebrates century of yellow jerseys

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PARIS — Next year’s Tour de France will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the showcase race’s iconic yellow jersey.

With France emerging from the carnage of World War I, the Tour offered its beacon of hope to the war-ravaged nation. In 1919, the race leader’s yellow jersey – which has become cycling’s most iconic symbol – was introduced.

“It came straight out of the trenches, born from the rubble of a wounded France,” Tour race director Christian Prudhomme said Thursday, unveiling the route for the July 6-28 race. “A light was needed, a color which can be seen better than any other, in the dust, in the night. A beacon was needed to guide France toward resurgence.”

Joining Prudhomme on stage were five-time Tour winners Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

“It’s the most important jersey you can wear,” the 73-year-old Merckx said.

Only four riders, including Jacques Anquetil, have won five Tours. Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven titles for doping.

“Over the century, the yellow jersey has left its mark. It’s experienced everything, the biggest exploits, the biggest champions,” Prudhomme said. “It also has also experienced the lies. (A total of) 266 champions have had the honor of wearing it.”

British rider Chris Froome will try to win his fifth title next year, but will have to depose his Team Sky teammate Geraint Thomas over the 3,460-kilometer (2,145-mile) race. It features seven flat stages for sprinters, five hilly ones for all-arounders, seven mountain stages – five of with summit finishes – one team time trial and one individual time trial.

The big climbs start in the Pyrenees before hitting the Alps.

The Tour has less of the Hors Categorie (Beyond Classification) climbs than before. Those HC climbs are the most grueling. Instead, the race has more of the Category Two climbs – which are noticeably less difficult and favor attacking strategies.

“Our ambition is not to make it more difficult but to make it more varied,” Prudhomme said. “(More) Incentive to attack.”

Sky has won six of the past seven races, often controlling them in the mountains by easily repelling attacks. This has given the team an aura of invincibility and the race a predictable tone.

With closer racing needed, the two time trials combine for a relatively low 54 kilometers (34 miles), meaning specialists such as Froome have less chance to gain significant time advantages.

The race begins with a flat stage for sprinters around the city of Brussels and stays there the next day for the 27-kilometer (17-mile) team time trial.

After leaving Belgium, the Tour snakes through the Champagne and Lorraine regions. Stage 4 for sprinters starts in Reims – the Champagne-producing city where 25 French kings were crowned in its cathedral.

With the race leaving the Alsace region, Stage 7 is the longest at 230 kilometers (143 miles) and made for sprinters. The next day’s stage is a hilly one, with several short but sharp climbs from Macon to Saint-Etienne.

The first rest day is July 16 in Albi in southern France, followed by a sprint stage before the Tour enters the high Pyrenees. Stage 14 on July 20 features finishes with a climb up the Tourmalet pass, one of the most famed in Tour history.

Riders tackle three days of Alpine climbing on stages 18-20, featuring an ascent up the famed Galibier and imposing Iseran – standing 2,770 meters (9,100 feet) – and culminating with a relentless 33.4-kilometer (20.7-mile) trek up to the ski resort of Val Thorens.

After the weary peloton is flown toward Paris, the race ends the next day with its processional showcase stage on the Champs-Elysees.

Ewan wins Stage 8; Conti keeps pink jersey in Giro

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PESARO, Italy (AP) Caleb Ewan of Australia sprinted to victory on the eighth and longest stage of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday, while Italian cyclist Valerio Conti remained the overall leader.

Ewan, who rides for Lotto-Soudal, edged Elia Viviani and Pascal Ackermann in a bunch sprint at the end of the 239-kilometer (149-mile) leg from Tortoreto Lido to Pesaro.

Conti, who has worn the pink jersey since finishing second on Thursday’s sixth stage, remained one minute, 32 seconds ahead of Jose Rojas and 1:41 ahead of Giovanni Carboni.

Sunday’s ninth stage is the only time the Giro crosses into another country as it visits the republic of San Marino briefly for the uphill finish of the 35-kilometer time trial.

That could mark the start of the real fight for overall victory, as every second lost will be tough to pull back when the race heads into the mountains.

The Giro finishes in Verona on June 2.

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Pogacar wins Stage 6 of Tour of California to take lead

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ONTARIO, Calif. — UAE Team Emirates began its week at the Tour of California by sending home one of its riders upon learning that his name had surfaced in a European investigation into doping in cycling.

The team appears set to end it with the overall race lead.

Tadej Pogacar reeled in several top contenders on Friday’s final climb to Mt. Baldy, then matched every attack thrown down by Sergio Higuita. That allowed him to reach the finish line first and take not only the sixth stage but also the lead in the general classification with just a day of racing to go.

In the women’s race, American climber Katie Hall surged in the final couple kilometers up Mt. Baldy before holding off teammate Anna van der Breggen for the stage win. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio was third.

Van der Breggen retained the overall lead by 29 seconds over Hall, the defending race winner.

UAE Team Emirates has ridden this week without Kristijan Durasek, who was caught up in the Austrian doping probe. But it hardly mattered for Pogacar, who stayed out of trouble during the earlier stages and was in fourth place and 16 seconds adrift of Tejay van Garderen entering Friday’s stage.

Van Garderen’s team tried to pace him to the top, but the 2013 race winner cracked before some of his EF-Education First teammates. Gianni Mascon of Team Ineos, who had been third, also dropped off the brutal pace up the steep Mt. Baldy climb, throwing the race wide open.

George Bennett tried to join the fray in the closing kilometer, but he was unable to make up the ground on Pogacar and Higuita, making it a true duel to the finish line.

Higuita led the way heading to the final corner, but the diminutive Colombian swung low and took a better line, allowing him to pull ahead and sprint clear for the victory.

He now leads by 16 seconds ahead of Higuita with Kasper Asgreen in third.

Several riders in the women’s race tried to attack on the tough climb of Mt. Baldy, too, and Omer Shapira was the first to offer a truly dangerous move. Hall soon followed with about 2+ kilometers (1 + miles) to go, and van der Breggen soon bridged to make a trio of riders at the front.

Shapira was unable to keep up with Hall and van der Breggen, the reigning world champion. That left the two Boels-Dolmans riders to duel on the final kilometer to the summit, and Hall made the pass within sight of the finish line to snag the stage victory.

The final stage Saturday takes the men and women 126 kilometers (78 miles) from Santa Clarita to Pasadena, but both overall leaders will be expected to protect their jerseys before the finish at the Rose Bowl.