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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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Kaetlyn Osmond wins world title after Zagitova, Kostner crumble

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Kaetlyn Osmond moved from fourth after the short program to win Canada’s first women’s world title in 45 years after Olympic champion Alina Zagitova fell three times and short-program leader Carolina Kostner also struggled jumping.

Osmond, the Olympic bronze medalist, overcame a 7.54-point deficit to Kostner and won by 12.33 points over Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi, who was eighth after the short program. Another Japanese, Satoko Miyahara, took bronze.

“To be able to make the podium was my ultimate goal,” Osmond said in Milan. “I never thought being champion was possible.”

Osmond was a national champion at age 17 in 2013. She missed the 2014-15 season with a broken leg, then went from being ranked 24th in the world in 2015-16 to winning world silver in 2017.

Kostner, at 31 looking to become the oldest female world champion in history, ended up fourth, 1.2 points out of bronze in what may have been her final competition. She fell once, had a single Axel and no triple-triple combination. Kostner won a world title in 2012 and Olympic bronze in 2014.

Zagitova, a 15-year-old looking to cap an undefeated season as the youngest Olympic and world champion since Tara Lipinski, finished fifth.

WORLDS: Full Scores | Recaps | TV Schedule

Americans finished sixth (Bradie Tennell), 10th (Mirai Nagasu) and 12th (Mariah Bell) after the U.S. women at the Olympics were ninth (Tennell), 10th (Nagasu) and 11th (Karen Chen). No U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history.

This is the first time since 2010 that the U.S. didn’t put a woman in the top five at the annual worlds.

That said, Tennell capped her rise the last two seasons — from ninth at the 2017 U.S. Championships and seventh at the 2017 World Championships to ninth in her Olympic debut and sixth in her senior world debut. And that U.S. title from January.

Friday’s results mean the U.S. drops from three women to two for the 2019 Worlds because the top two finishes didn’t add up to 13 or fewer (sixth and seventh, for example). The last time the U.S. had fewer than the maximum three spots at an Olympics or worlds was 2013.

Worlds conclude Saturday with the free dance and men’s free skate.

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French break world record, month after Olympic wardrobe malfunction

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Gabriella Papadakis‘ dress was secure. Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron‘s performance was extraordinary.

The French broke the world record short dance score at the world championships in Milan on Friday. Papadakis wore the same style costume that came slightly undone in the Olympic short dance and exposed her breast in South Korea.

“Back in Montreal [training after the Olympics], I just fixed a couple things in my dress, and I made sure it wouldn’t be able to break or to open in any way,” Papadakis said, before adding with a laugh, “and it didn’t.”

Papadakis and Cizeron tallied 83.73 points Friday, beating Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir‘s record from the Olympics by .06. The two-time world champs and Olympic silver medalists lead Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue by 3.31 going into Saturday’s free dance.

Two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates are fifth, 2.75 points out of medal position.

WORLDS: Full Scores | RecapsTV Schedule

The field lacks Olympic gold and bronze medalists Virtue and Moir and American siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani. Medalists often skip the post-Olympic world championships due to off-ice opportunities, exhaustion or retirement.

Papadakis and Cizeron entered the Olympics as, at worst, co-favorites with Virtue and Moir. Though Virtue and Moir won their three head-to-heads in 2016-17, Papadakis and Cizeron this season posted the four highest total scores under the eight-year-old system in their four international events leading into PyeongChang.

Disaster struck in the Olympic short dance, where Papadakis had that wardrobe malfunction. The couple still tallied 81.93 points, just .14 off their personal best. They outscored Virtue and Moir in the free dance, but the Canadians won overall by .79.

This week, Papadakis and Cizeron eye their third world title after back-to-back crowns in 2015 and 2016 as the youngest ice dance world champs in 40 years. A triple would match Virtue and Moir and give them one more world title than 2014 Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

“The season has been so demanding,” Cizeron said. “It feels really good to end a season on a note like this.”

The third U.S. couple, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, is in 15th place after Hawayek fell in their short dance. The 2014 World junior champions made the field due to the Shibutanis withdrawing.

Key Free Dance Start Times (Saturday ET)
Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 11:27 a.m.
Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 12:56 p.m.
Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 1:04 p.m.
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 1:12 p.m.
Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 1:20 p.m.
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 1:28 p.m.

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