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Kittel wins Tour stage as Froome limits damage after crash

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LIEGE, Belgium (AP) — The thriving current state of German cycling stood out in sharp contrast to the sport’s dirty past during the second stage of the Tour de France on Sunday.

As Marcel Kittel rode toward a commanding sprint victory to conclude a leg that began before large crowds in Duesseldorf, Germany, disgraced 1997 champion Jan Ullrich stood by the road as an uninvited spectator.

“It makes me really, really proud to see that this sport is now well accepted again in my home country,” Kittel said. “There was definitely a time where not so many spectators were standing next to the road. And those who were there were showing signs with EPO syringes or other (stuff).”

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Without any teammates in the final 500 meters (yards) of a mostly flat stage concluding in Liege, Kittel wisely stayed on his rivals’ wheels before bursting ahead at the final moment for his 10th career stage win in the Tour.

Meanwhile, three-time champion Chris Froome had to work hard to catch up with the main pack after falling to the pavement amid a mass crash on a wet corner.

Froome’s Sky teammate Geraint Thomas held on to the leader’s yellow jersey.

Froome was near the front of the peloton when a Katusha rider ahead of him lost control coming around a sharp turn with about 30 kilometers (20 miles) to go. The domino reaction also took down last year’s runner-up, Romain Bardet.

Froome’s shorts and several layers of skin were torn and he had to change bikes as three teammates paced him back to the peloton.

“I have no injuries thankfully. I’ve just lost a little bit of skin on my backside,” Froome said. “That’s the nature of the race. We knew it was slippery conditions and every time you put the race numbers on there’s a big risk something could happen.

“Someone slid just a few wheels ahead of me and at those speeds you just can’t avoid it,” Froome added. “A few of us went down but thankfully everyone is OK and we got to the finish alright without losing any time to our rivals. That’s the main thing.”

Having won the opening time trial Saturday, Thomas remained five seconds ahead of Swiss rider Stefan Kueng in the overall standings.

With a 10-second bonus, Kittel moved up to third overall, six seconds behind Thomas.

Froome is sixth, 12 seconds behind.

“It was stressful. You kind of forget what the Tour is like,” Thomas said. “The weather didn’t help things at all.”

In the sprint, Arnaud Demare of France finished second and Andre Greipel of Germany crossed third in a banner day for Germany.

A day like this would have been unthinkable just a few years ago when German TV stopped broadcasting the Tour because of a series of doping scandals.

Ullrich was suspended in 2006 in the fallout from the Operation Puerto blood-doping scandal in Spain and he retired a year later. There were also scandals involving prominent German riders like Patrick Sinkewitz and Stefan Schumacher. Even Erik Zabel, the popular rider who still holds the record of six green jerseys in the Tour’s points classification, admitted to doping after he retired.

These days, a new generation of German riders led by Kittel and Greipel — who have won 21 Tour stages between them — plus four-time time trial world champion Tony Martin and classics specialist John Degenkolb, have drawn German fans back.

The Tour of Germany, which was canceled in 2009, is slated to return next year.

While Kittel and other Germany riders had campaigned for Ullrich to be invited by Tour organizers to Duesseldorf, race organizers refused.

So Ullrich showed up on his own account instead in Korschenbroich, a town along the stage route.

“The image of cycling and also the way people see it now has changed. They understand this is a sport that had a very tough time, a very big problem with doping,” Kittel said. “They also, I think, understand that this is a sport that always has to pay attention to this heritage and that we are actively trying to work on it.”

As Kittel rode through Duesseldorf, he was close to shedding tears over the fan turnout.

“It was a really touching moment,” he said. “And a memory that I will never forget.”

There were more emotions at the finish, when Kittel dropped to the ground and started crying.

“It was a big goal to start in Germany and win at the end of that stage,” he said.

The Tour remains in Belgium for the start of Stage 3 on Monday, a 212.5-kilometer (132-mile) leg from Verviers to Longwy, France, that passes through Luxembourg. The rolling leg features three fourth-category climbs and two third-category climbs, including one at the finish. It should set up well for punchy riders like Verviers native Philippe Gilbert.

MORE:Geraint Thomas wins crash-filled Tour de France Stage 1

Two-time Olympian becomes first woman to lead U.S. national swim team

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Two-time Olympian Lindsay Mintenko has been picked to lead the U.S. national swimming team. She is the first woman to hold the title.

USA Swimming made the announcement Wednesday.

Mintenko replaces Frank Busch, who retired Oct. 1 as managing director. She has been a member of the national team staff since 2006.

During her swimming career, Mintenko won gold medals as a U.S. team captain at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics 800m freestyle relay and added a silver in 2004 on the 400m freestyle relay.

USA Swimming also announced an organizational restructuring that will place all technical divisions, including the national team, under the oversight of chief operating officer Mike Unger.

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Grand Prix figure skating: 10 female skaters to watch

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Ten women to watch this fall as the Grand Prix figure skating season starts this week …

Yevgenia Medvedeva
Russia
Two-time world champion
Grand Prix Starts: Russia, Japan

Undefeated in nearly two years and arguably on the most dominant run since Katarina Witt in the 1980s. Medvedeva rarely misses jumps and has feather-light elegance on the ice. Off of it, she enjoys Japanese anime and K-pop. She quickly surpassed older skaters after turning senior in 2015, but now younger teens are giving chase.

Kaetlyn Osmond
Canada
2017 World silver medalist
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, France

Osmond won a Grand Prix at age 16 in 2012, but injuries dogged her the next few years. Most of all, a broken leg suffered in September 2014. She came back and was the breakout woman last season, making her first Grand Prix Final and then grabbing second at worlds behind Medvedeva.

Gabrielle Daleman
Canada
2017 World bronze medalist
Grand Prix Starts: China, U.S.

Like Osmond, would not have been picked for a world medal at the start of last season. Daleman was 17th at the Sochi Olympics, with a foot injury and one month after turning 16. She was 13th, 21st and ninth in three worlds appearances before last year. She was fourth at each of her Grand Prix starts in 2016, failing to make the six-skater Grand Prix Final, but picked up her first top-level senior international medals at Four Continents in February and worlds in March.

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Satoko Miyahara
Japan
2015 World silver medalist
Grand Prix Starts: Japan, U.S.

Miyahara’s hip injury last winter could not have come at a worse time for the Japanese federation. She missed worlds, and Japan ended up qualifying two rather than three spots for PyeongChang. Before that, Miyahara took second behind Medvedeva at the Grand Prix Final and was ranked No. 2 in the world. Now the Japanese Olympic picture is crowded with fellow teens Marin HondaMai Mihara and Wakaba Higuchi.

Karen Chen
U.S.
Fourth at 2017 Worlds
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, U.S.

Went from eighth at the 2016 U.S. Championships to winning the 2017 U.S. title and placing fourth at worlds. Chen’s clutch effort ensured the U.S. earned three women’s spots at the Olympics. The 18-year-old from the Bay Area has largely struggled in other international competitions. A best of fifth in four Grand Prix starts. Twelfth at a pair of Four Continents Championships. Already this season at two international events, she finished behind Mirai Nagasu, who was fourth at nationals.

Ashley Wagner
U.S.
2016 World silver medalist
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, U.S.

Wagner just missed the 2010 Olympic team, then made Sochi despite placing fourth at nationals. She has undoubtedly been the most consistent U.S. woman in this Olympic cycle. The 26-year-old ended a decade-long U.S. medal drought with the skate of her life at worlds in 2016. Her follow-up last season was not so memorable — her least successful campaign in six years. Still a favorite to become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928.

Alina Zagitova
Russia
2017 World junior champion
Grand Prix Starts: China, France

Medvedeva’s training partner, in her first senior season, might be the skater with the best chance of dethroning her. Zagitova, born three months after the 2002 Olympics, has the highest free skate score in the world this season (.45 better than Medvedeva). Their duel(s) in December at Russian Nationals and possibly the Grand Prix Final should be appointment viewing.

Marin Honda
Japan
2016 World junior champion
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, China

Honda is the other first-year senior turning heads. She beat a field at the U.S. Classic last month that included three of the top four from last season’s U.S. Championships. Figure skating is the Winter Olympics’ marquee sport. The women’s event is its headliner. And nowhere is skating more popular than Japan. With Mao Asada‘s retirement, the spotlight will be on Honda, who already has 236,000 Instagram followers.

Carolina Kostner
Italy
2014 Olympic bronze medalist
Grand Prix Starts: Russia, Japan

The second-oldest Olympic women’s singles medalist since 1928 is the only one from the top six in Sochi who is competing this Grand Prix season. Kostner, now 30, took a break after the 2014 season, then served a backdated 21-month suspension for helping ex-boyfriend and Olympic race-walking champion Alex Schwazer evade drug testers in 2012. She finally returned in December and was sixth at worlds.

Mirai Nagasu
U.S.
Fourth at 2010 Olympics
Grand Prix Starts: Russia, Japan

Nagasu, left off the Olympic team in favor of Wagner in 2014, is arguably the best U.S. skater at the moment after topping Chen at both of her early season outings. She added the triple Axel this season, which could prime her to win her second national title, a full decade after her first at age 14. It could be an incredible comeback story, returning to the Olympics after finishing fourth in Vancouver in 2010.

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