Chris Froome wins fourth Tour de France title

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PARIS (AP) — Riding a bright yellow bike to match his shiny leader’s jersey, defending champion Chris Froome won his fourth and most challenging Tour de France title on Sunday.

The 32-year-old Kenyan-born British rider finished 54 seconds ahead of Colombian Rigoberto Uran overall, the smallest margin of his wins.

“This Tour has been my toughest yet. I want to pay tribute to all riders for their sportsmanship,” Froome said. “We raced hard together, we suffered together.”

This was the third straight win for the Team Sky rider. His first in 2013 came the year after former teammate Bradley Wiggins sparked off an era of British dominance.

His margin of victory over Colombian Nairo Quintana in 2013 was by more than four minutes. Quintana pushed him much harder in 2015, finishing only 1:12 back, but Froome beat Frenchman Romain Bardet by 4:05 last year. Bardet was third this time.

Froome looked emotional as he lifted the race winner’s bouquet of flowers, his eyes seemingly watering. Then, smiling broadly, he gave a thumbs-up to the crowd before going to pick up his young son and walking back onto the podium with him in his arms.

“I want to dedicate this victory to my family. Your love and support makes everything possible,” he said. “I also want to thank my team Sky (for your) dedication and passion.”

Then, switching to an admirably improving French, Froome addressed the Parisian crowd.

“I wanted to thank the French fans, thank you for the welcome and your generosity,” said Froome, who was nevertheless loudly jeered in Marseille on Saturday. “More than 100 years ago you created this beautiful race. Your passion for this race makes it really special. I fell in love with this race.”

Bardet placed 2 minutes, 20 seconds behind him. But he denied Spaniard Mikel Landa — Froome’s teammate — a podium spot by just one second. Italian Fabio Aru, who briefly led the race, finished fifth, 3:05 behind.

“It’s always more difficult to repeat a result,” Bardet said. “I’m really happy with this podium finish.”

As per tradition, the 21st stage was reserved for sprinters and mostly a procession for Froome and the other overall leaders.

Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen won the final stage in a dash to the line, edging German rider Andre Greipel and Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Moments later, Froome and the rest of the peloton crossed the line after eight laps of an eye-catching circuit around the city’s landmarks, finishing as usual on the famed Champs-Elysees.

Froome now needs only one more title to match the Tour record of five shared by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

“It’s a huge honor to be talked about in the same sentence as those guys,” Froome said. “Lots of respect for them.”

Froome sealed his win on Saturday, finishing third in the time trial in Marseille where he put more time into Uran and Bardet, who dropped from second to third.

After more than three weeks of stressful racing, it was a relaxed and easygoing atmosphere as riders set out from Montgeron in the Essone suburb south of Paris to the evening finish 103 kilometers (64 miles) away.

Froome chatted casually with two-time champion Alberto Contador, the Spanish veteran, as if they were on a sight-seeding ride.

Right in front of them, Frenchman Warren Barguil — wearing the best climber’s red-and-white polka dot jersey — swapped race anecdotes with Australian Michael Matthews, wearing the green jersey awarded for the Tour’s top sprinter.

Matthews became the third Australian to win the green jersey, all this decade, following Robbie McEwen and Baden Cooke.

“It’s really a dream come true to stand there with the green jersey,” the 26-year-old Matthews said.

Froome’s teammates wore a yellow stripe on the back of their Team Sky shirts. They allowed themselves a flute of champagne, chinking glasses with leader Froome, as they casually rolled through the streets under cloudy skies beside cheering fans packing the roads into Paris.

Everyone was in high spirits, happy to be make it through a grueling race that saw Australian Richie Porte, one of the pre-race favorites, and Froome’s teammate Geraint Thomas both crash out. Britain’s Mark Cavendish, a 30-time Tour stage winner, and Marcel Kittel — winner of five stages this year — pulled out injured after crashes. Peter Sagan, winner of the past five green jerseys, was thrown out of the Tour for causing Cavendish’s crash.

As the slow-moving peloton passed near where Frenchman Yoann Offredo grew up, a television camera moved alongside, asking what it was like to be riding so close to home.

“I might nip to the bathroom,” he said, jokingly.

Another rider, Cyril Gautier, asked his girlfriend Caroline to marry him: the proposal scrawled on a piece of paper held up by the smiling Frenchman as he blew a kiss to the camera.

Barring a crash, Froome was virtually assured of winning.

The route to another victory continued to unfurl before him without mishap — although he did have to change bikes at one stage. Barguil had a brief hiccup, needing to catch up after a puncture, but generally the peloton took in the sights.

Riders passed the Hotel des Invalides — a magnificent, sprawling set of buildings ordered by King Louis XIV in the 17th century — and actually rode through the resplendent Grand Palais exhibition hall, then past the golden statute of Joan of Arc, up the famed Champs-Elysees from the iconic Place de la Concorde and its towering 23-meter Egyptian obelix, and around the Arc de Triomphe.

Some might say Froome did not shine too brightly because he didn’t win a stage, but neither did American Greg LeMond when clinching his third and final Tour in 1990.

For Froome, consistency and a dogged ability to respond when put under pressure were the keys to his latest success.

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Female runners with high testosterone face new restriction

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Female runners with high testosterone must reduce those levels or will not be allowed in international races between 400m and the mile, according to an IAAF rule starting Nov. 1.

Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya, who was gender tested in 2009, is expected to be affected, according to South Africa’s Olympic Committee.

“Our evidence and data show that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages in female athletes,” IAAF president Seb Coe said in a press release. “The revised rules are not about cheating, no athlete with a DSD [difference of sexual development] has cheated, they are about leveling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition.”

The IAAF, after funding a study along with the World Anti-Doping Agency, said research showed the following natural testosterone levels:

Most women: .12-1.79 nanomoles per liter in blood
Normal men after puberty: 7.7-29.4 nmol/L

The IAAF rule forces all women who race the 400m through mile and who are androgen-sensitive to restrict their ratio to below five. It said women who have “a difference of sexual development” can have natural testosterone levels beyond the normal male range.

The IAAF and WADA-funded study found that women with high testosterone have up to a 4.5 percent advantage over their competition on the track.

Research showed 7.1 of every 1,000 elite female track and field athletes have elevated testosterone, most of which were runners in events between 400m and the mile.

“The treatment to reduce testosterone levels is a hormone supplement similar to the contraceptive pill taken by millions of women around the world,” an IAAF doctor said in the release. “No athlete will be forced to undergo surgery.”

The IAAF had gender-verification testing in place until 2011, when it was replaced with a test for abnormally high levels of natural testosterone. Under that rule, female athletes with a ratio of 10 nmol/L or higher could only compete against women if they had an operation or took hormones to reduce their testosterone level.

In July 2015, the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) suspended the IAAF’s regulation, ruling that it lacked sufficient scientific backing and was therefore unjustifiably discriminatory.

The gender-testing issue was raised in 2009, when Semenya won the world 800m title by nearly 2.5 seconds at age 18. Word leaked that track officials mandated she undergo sex testing.

Semenya was not cleared to run for 11 months and came back to earn silver at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics, while the testosterone-limiting rule was in effect, behind Russian Maria Savinova, who has since been stripped of her golds for doping.

Semenya then had a lull in performance after the London Games while the testosterone-limiting rule was still in effect. After CAS suspended the rule in 2015, Semenya peaked again in 2016, going undefeated in 800m races, twice breaking the national record and comfortably winning Olympic gold.

Semenya has never spoken publicly in detail about her situation. It has never been publicly verified that Semenya’s body naturally produces abnormally high levels of testosterone or that she ever took hormone suppressants.

An image with the sentence, “How beautiful it is to stay silent when someone expects you to be enraged,” was posted on Semenya’s social media Wednesday after reports were first published about the new rule.

Her default position is generally to talk only about her running, but she spoke out against her critics in a speech after accepting South Africa’s Sportswoman of the Year in November 2016.

“They say she talks like a man, she walks like a man, she runs like a man,” Semenya said, before finishing off the series with an Afrikaans word that loosely translates to “Get lost.”

South Africa’s Olympic Committee president Gideon Sam said Thursday his organization was “disappointed by the IAAF ruling.”

“Especially given that Caster’s name is again being dragged through the publicity mill,” he said in a press release. “We are concerned that the decisions have been approved without taking into account all factors into consideration, as these factors have not been properly nor fully ventilated. We wish to place on record that Caster Semenya has never engaged in any performance-enhancing activities and any enhanced testosterone levels are due solely to her genetic make-up.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Olympic pairs champions take indefinite break

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Aljona Savchenko, the Olympic pairs champion with Bruno Massot, said they are taking an indefinite break from competition, according to German press agency DPA.

Savchenko and Massot will perform in ice shows next fall and winter, which could preclude them from competing in major events like the Grand Prix season (late October to early December) and the European Championships in January.

The German pair followed their title in PyeongChang with a world title last month, breaking a four-year-old world-record score and winning by the largest margin (20.31 points) in pairs at an Olympics or worlds since the 6.0 system was replaced 14 years ago.

Savchenko, 34 and a five-time Olympian, became the oldest Olympic pairs gold medalist. She then claimed her 11th world medal — tying the female record held by Norwegian singles legend Sonja Henie — and sixth world title — tying Soviet Alexander Zaitsev for second on the all-time pairs list, four behind Irina Rodnina.

The French-born Massot, 29, competed in his first Olympics in PyeongChang and earned his first world title. Savchenko’s previous five world titles came with now-retired Robin Szolkowy.

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