Greg van Avermaet

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Philippe Gilbert wins royal sprint to claim Amstel Gold Race

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VOLKENBURG, Netherlands — Philippe Gilbert’s renaissance continued Sunday as the Belgium champion won a two-man sprint to claim a fourth victory in the Amstel Gold Race classic.

The 34-year-old former world champion, who also won the Tour of Flanders earlier this month, produced a strong final push to catch former winner Michal Kwiatkowski, who launched the sprint with about 300 meters (yards) left.

“He surprised me a little in the sprint, but it was a headwind so I didn’t panic, and I saw I was getting closer and closer, and it was perfect for me in the end,” said Gilbert, who has also won nine stages on the Tour de France, Spanish Vuelta and Italian Giro during his career.

Michael Albasini won the dash for third place.

An early break from a group of a dozen riders highlighted the first hours of the race on the rolling hills of Limburg province but the final battle shaped up with 40 kilometers (25 miles) to go when Tiesj Benoot attacked on the Kruisberg climb, with Gilbert in his wake. Benoot’s efforts were hampered by a mechanical problem and the young Belgian rider was dropped from the leading group.

After former winners Roman Kreuziger and Enrico Gasparotto saw their hopes of victory vanish in a crash, Kwiatkowski managed to join the leaders on the punishing Keutenberg climb with an impressive burst that left Greg Van Avermaet and Alejandro Valverde behind.

With 19 kilometers to go, Kwiatkowski led the seven-man group as they tackled the third and final climb up the Cauberg hill with a 30-second lead over the main peloton. The tough final climb to the finish up the Cauberg – a 1.5 kilometer ascent at an average gradient of 5.8 percent – was moved up in this year’s route as organizers tried to create a more open race. In the past, climbing specialists often waited until the short but steep ascent shortly before the finish line to make their move.

The seven breakaway riders worked well together and resisted the chasing peloton although Jose Joaquin Rojas did not take turns at the front. Kwiatkowski tried a solo move in the Bemelerberg, the last of the 35 climbs in the race, about 5.5 kilometers from the finish, but Gilbert countered his attack. The duo stayed together all the way to the finish where Gilbert proved the stronger.

“It was a hard final,” Gilbert said. “All of us deserved the win today because we really worked together … In the end with Kwiato we went hard, I saw the guys behind were on the limit. I was too but if you can find one or two percent more, it makes the difference. I told him: `We ride until the last kilometer and the best man wins.’ That’s the best deal you can make.”

Greg Van Avermaet and Zdenek Stybar lead thrilling Paris-Roubaix finish

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ROUBAIX, France (AP) Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet overtook Zdenek Stybar just before the line in a thrilling sprint finish to win the Paris-Roubaix classic for the first time on Sunday.

With five riders in contention on the final lap entering the velodrome in Roubaix, Stybar launched a blistering attack. But the Belgian rider countered it brilliantly, going on the outside of the Czech rider and streaking past him in the last 10 meters. Dutchman Sebastian Langeveld finished third.

Van Avermaet screamed with joy, while Stybar thumped his handlebar in frustration. After dismounting, Van Avermaet rushed over to hug his BMC teammate Daniel Oss of Italy, who had ridden hard in front to put him in a winning position.

“It feels really good. I suffered a lot, but when you win you forget everything. I was just really strong in the end,” Van Avermaet said. “This race is right up there among the classics. After many years, I’ve managed to win it.”

It was even more satisfying for Van Avermaet considering he lost nearly one minute after crashing earlier in the race.

The race is known as the “Hell of the North” for the numerous cobblestone sections along the 257-kilometer (159.3-mile) trek to Roubaix in northern France.

About 100 kilometers from the end Van Avermaet fell on one of them, shouting for a new bike as he clutched his left shoulder.

Van Avermaet, who recovered from a fall last Sunday to finish second at the Tour of Flanders, frantically caught back up while Tom Boonen continued to attack from the front of the peloton, chasing down the three breakaway riders.

Boonen, racing for the final time in a glittering classics career, led the peloton into the famed Trouee d’Arenberg – a notoriously difficult cobble section stretching for 2 kilometers (1.24 kilometers) – although dry conditions spared riders the risk of treacherous slips.

Trying to break free of the peloton, Boonen attacked again with 70 kilometers to go, with world champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia on his wheel.

Up ahead, the three breakaway riders were now two – with Jasper Stuyven of Belgium and Oss about 30 seconds ahead.

Stuyven soon dropped back, while Oss was joined by six other riders – including Van Avermaet -to form a small leading group.

Sagan lost some valuable time to repair a puncture, while Boonen lagged behind and finished the race in 13th.

Van Avermaet continues his great form this season. He recently won the Gent-Wevelgem and E3 Harelbeke classics, adding to his victory last month in Het Nieuwsblad.

The 31-year-old Van Avermaet is at his peak, while Boonen ends his career falling short of a record fifth win at Paris-Roubaix.

“He’s a really exceptional rider, exceptional person and exceptional friend,” Stybar said of Boonen, his Quick-Step Floors teammate. “It’s a pity we couldn’t bring him to first place.”

Van Avermaet wins Gent-Wevelgem for two victories in three days

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GENT, Belgium (AP) Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet won his second race in three days Sunday, beating fellow Belgian Jens Keukeleire in a two-man sprint finish to take the Gent-Wevelgem classic.

World champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who won last year’s race, finished third.

The 249-kilometer (154.7-mile) race through Belgium included two ascents of the steep, cobbled Kemmelberg hill, one of the iconic climbs of the spring classics season.

Last year’s race was overshadowed by the death of Belgian rider Antoine Demoitie after a fall.

Sagan fell Friday in the E3 Harelbeke, which Van Avermaet also won to add to his victory last month in Het Nieuwsblad.