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Tour de France route for 2018 unveiled

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PARIS (AP) — Defending champion Chris Froome can expect a stern challenge from Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin in next year’s Tour de France.

Froome is chasing a record-equaling fifth victory to move level with Belgian great Eddy Merckx, French riders Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, and Spanish great Miguel Indurain.

Froome and Dumoulin won the three Grand Tours last year, with Froome adding the Spanish Vuelta and Dumoulin winning the Giro d’Italia.

The 105th edition of the Tour features a hilly 31-kilometer (19-mile) time trial through the Basque country on the penultimate day.

Froome is a specialist, but Dumoulin is the reigning world time trial champion.

The 32-year-old Froome is still in his prime, while the 26-year-old Dumoulin is approaching his.

“A contest between Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin, two riders with similar qualities, wouldn’t displease me. It would force one of the two to try something different to surprise the other,” Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme said Tuesday. “We’re looking at a new generation that wants to entertain. I think that if Christopher Froome is up against Tom Dumoulin, they will want to do that. They will be more or less equal in the time trials. That’s something very exciting.”

The race starts on July 7 — a week later than usual because of the soccer World Cup in Russia — and opens with a flat 117-mile route for sprinters from Noirmoutier-en-l’ile to Fontenay-le-Comte in the Vendee region, on the Atlantic coast.

With the time trial returning after being omitted the last two years, Froome’s Team Sky will be confident of creating early time gaps on Stage 3 — 21.7-mile route starting and ending in Cholet in Western France.

But Sky faces tough competition, because Dumoulin’s Sunweb team is the reigning TTT world champion.

The Tour route, which goes clockwise, features 25 mountain climbs — ranging from the relatively difficult Category 2 to Category 1 and the daunting Hors Categorie (beyond classification).

Eleven are in the Alps, four in the Massif central region and 10 in the Pyrenees.

The difficult climbs start on Stage 10, the first of three straight days of grueling Alpine ascents.

But organizers have preceded that with a tricky ninth stage that could shake up the peloton.

It takes riders over 15 treacherous cobblestone sections: the highest number since the 1980 Tour, with nearly 13.6 miles altogether.

The Roubaix cobbles may perhaps trouble Froome, although Prudhomme thinks the British rider can handle anything.

“The leaders of the Tour have the ability to adapt. We’ve seen that Chris Froome has a range of abilities much wider than people said,” Prudhomme said. “He’s intelligent and hard-working. He keeps on winning in a different manner than in previous years.”

Even though Froome will be 33 on next year’s Tour, Prudhomme still thinks he can improve.

“I don’t think we’ve seen everything that Froome has to offer,” Prudhomme said. “He is strong in areas we didn’t think he was.”

The cobbles are followed by a rest day on July 16, and Froome had better make the most of it because the Alps start brutally the day after.

Stage 10 on July 17 has four difficult climbs on a 98.6-mile route from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand. They include a punchy ascent of Montee du plateau de Glieres, featuring for the first time.

“Six kilometers with an 11.2 percent gradient is monumental,” Prudhomme said.

The third day of Alpine climbing begins with Col de la Madeleine, then Croix de Fer (which translates as the ominous-sounding Iron Cross) and ends with an ascent of l’Alpe d’Huez: three of the Tour’s most well-known.

Dumoulin is not in Froome’s class as a climber, but is not so easy to drop. Whether he can hang in with Froome all the way to the Pyrenees, however, will prove crucial to his chances.

The three tough days of climbing in the Pyrenees starts with Stage 16 on July 24: a daunting 135-mile route from Carcassone to Bagneres-de-Luchon that follows the second rest day.

Stage 17 is short at 40 miles but cruel, with three consecutive nasty climbs, ending with an attack up Col de Portet.

Stage 18 is relatively flat but the next day’s third and final day of climbing on Stage 19 has four ascents and then ends with a potentially treacherous 12.4-mile descent that will test the concentration of tired riders.

Whoever is freshest after that will have a better chance of challenging Froome in the time trial.

The 21-stage race ends with its customary processional Sunday finish on the Champs-Elysees.

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Emma Coburn, Sam Kendricks win USATF Athlete of the Year awards

Emma Coburn, Sam Kendricks
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Emma Coburn and Sam Kendricks followed Rio Olympic bronze medals with their first world titles in August. And now, they both won USATF Athlete of the Year honors.

Coburn, 27, took the female award named after Jackie Joyner-Kersee after becoming the first American woman to bag 3000m steeplechase gold at the Olympics or worlds.

Coburn led an emotional U.S. one-two with Courtney Frerichs in London on Aug. 11 (video here). She broke the American record (by five seconds) and the world championships record by winning in 9:02.58.

Kendricks, 25, captured the Jesse Owens Award after an undefeated season that included the first Olympic or world pole vault title by an American man in 10 years.

The first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve won all 17 of his competitions in 2017, clearing six meters for the first time. No American had eclipsed that barrier since 2008.

Coburn and Kendricks won the USATF honors over the likes of fellow world champions Justin Gatlin and Tori Bowie (100m), Christian Taylor (triple jump), Phyllis Francis (400m), Kori Carter (400m hurdles) and Brittney Reese (long jump). Plus Shalane Flanagan and Galen Rupp, who each won World Marathon Majors this fall.

Rio gold medalists Michelle Carter (shot put) and Matthew Centrowitz (1500m) won the awards last year.

Coburn is the first steeplechaser to take home a USATF Athlete of the Year award. They’ve been handed out since 1981.

Kendricks joined 2000 Olympic champion Stacy Dragila as the only pole vaulters to earn the honor.

More from USATF on the awards here.

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Jana Novotna, Wimbledon champ and Olympic medalist, dies at 49

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PRAGUE (AP) — Jana Novotna, who won the hearts of the tennis world when she sobbed on the shoulder of a member of the British royal family after a heartbreaking loss in the Wimbledon final, has died at the age of 49.

The WTA announced Novotna’s death on Monday, saying she died Sunday in her native Czech Republic following a long battle with cancer.

Novotna died “peacefully, surrounded by her family,” the women’s tennis body said.

Her family confirmed her death to the Czech Republic’s CTK news agency. No details were given.

Martina Navratilova, the tennis great who was also born in what was then Czechoslovakia, tweeted: “The tennis world is so sad about the passing of Jana Novotna. I am gutted and beyond words. Jana was a true friend and an amazing woman.”

Novotna won her only Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 1998, eventually triumphing after two losses in the final at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in 1993 and 1997.

She added three Olympic tennis medals — singles bronze at Altanta 1996 (knocking out top seed Monica Seles) and doubles silver in 1988 and 1996 with Helena Sukova.

She also lost in the 1991 Australian Open final.

While she finally captured the Grand Slam singles title she longed for in 1998, she won over the Wimbledon crowd five years earlier after wasting a big lead in the decisive set in a tough three-set loss to Steffi Graf.

Unable to hide her disappointment, Novotna cried on the shoulder of Britain’s Duchess of Kent at the prize giving ceremony and was gently comforted by the royal, who told her: “I know you will win it one day, don’t worry.”

Novotna ultimately had her moment five years later when she beat Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets to win Wimbledon. At the time, she was the oldest first-time winner of a Grand Slam singles title at age 29.

There wear tears again from Novotna, this time of joy, and the Duchess of Kent was present again to congratulate her.

“She was a true champion in all senses of the word, and her 1998 triumph will live long in the memory,” Wimbledon organizers the All England Club said in tribute to Novotna. “The thoughts of all those at Wimbledon are with her family and friends.”

Fellow Czech and four-time Grand Slam champion Hana Mandlikova, who coached Novotna for her Wimbledon win, said: “It’s hard to find words. Jana was a great girl and I’m happy that she won Wimbledon after all. It’s so sad when someone so young dies.”

During a 14-year professional career, Novotna won 24 singles titles and reached a career-high No. 2 in the singles rankings in 1997. She was a prolific and top-ranked doubles player, collecting 16 slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles.

She also won the Fed Cup with her country in 1988. Novotna was inducted into tennis’ Hall of Fame in 2005.

Even after retiring in 1999, Novotna was desperate to stay involved in tennis and became a commentator and coach.

“I’m dependent on tennis,” she said in an interview two years ago. “A day without it would be terrible.”

Members of the current Czech Fed Cup team said Novotna “supported us in the stands any time she could be there. We’ll miss her.”

“Jana was an inspiration both on and off court to anyone who had the opportunity to know her,” WTA chief executive Steve Simon said. “Her star will always shine brightly in the history of the WTA.”