Simone Biles

Simone Biles leads after first day of women’s competition at U.S. gymnastics championships

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First-year senior Simone Biles posted a massive all-around score of 60.50 on the first night of competition at U.S. Gymnastics Nationals, which doesn’t just top the standings in the U.S. — it’s the highest score in the world this season.

Everybody’s scores Thursday will be combined with scores Saturday (8 p.m., NBC and online here) to determine a new national champion at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

Biles, 16, competed as though her three-fall performance at the U.S. Classic three weeks ago never happened. She started strong on the uneven bars (14.75) and posted the highest score on floor exercise (15.05), but it was on the balance beam when she punched in what could be considered one of the greatest full twisting double back somersault dismounts of all time.

She earned a 14.9 on beam, also leading the field, and enters the second and final night of competition Saturday with a lead of .75 over Olympian Kyla Ross. Performances at the National Championships will help determine who will be chosen for the four-gymnast team going to the World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, Sept. 30-Oct. 6.

Biles continued her bounce back from the U.S. Classic in July, when she didn’t record a score over 14. This is the same gymnast who beat Ross at the Jesolo Trophy in Italy in March.

“I kept my mindset to do what I did in Europe,” Biles said.

McKayla Maroney, who is competing on two of four apparatus in Hartford, hit her floor routine with ease (14.85, second to Biles), and vaulted well, but not her best, taking a big step forward on her signature Amanar. Nevertheless, she leads field on that event by one tenth of a point over Biles.

Ross stumbled on the same floor tumbling pass that gave her trouble at the U.S. Classic, only to roar back on her last two events — vault and bars.

“I don’t really know what happened on beam and floor,” Ross said. “I maybe had a little bit of jitters. I know starting on beam is a little difficult.”

Third place Brenna Dowell, 17, proved that she is becoming one of the most dependable U.S. gymnasts. She made only one major mistake, on her first event, uneven bars, and performed a very impressive front handspring double front pike on floor.

It was a frustrating night for Elizabeth Price. The 2012 Olympic alternate was unable to work her way out of an error on the uneven bars, one of her best events, and took a fall. Price, who is recovering from injury, will be looking to improve on night two and can still impress U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi at the selection camp in September.

It was also a disappointing night for Madison Kocian. the latest gymnast out of the Texas WOGA pipeline that produced Olympic all-around champions Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin. Kocian led the all-around after two rotations before badly rolling her ankle on the floor and eventually opting to not finish Thursday’s competition. No word yet on if she’ll be continue Saturday.

Peyton Ernst, one of Kim Zmeskal’s stars, delivered big time on the vault, sticking her 2 1/2-twisting Yurchenko, but came apart on the balance beam. She’s in fourth place.

Here are the standings after the first of two nights of competition:

Women’s all-around
1. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 60.500
2. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 59.750
3. Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo., 58.450
4. Peyton Ernst, Coppell, Texas, 57.450
5. Maggie Nichols, Little Canada, Minn., 56.950

Vault
1. McKayla Maroney, Long Beach, Calif., 15.500
2. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 15.400
3. Mykayla Skinner, Gilbert, Ariz., 14.850

Uneven bars
1. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 15.500
2. Madison Kocian, Dallas, Texas, 15.000
3. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 14.750
4. Peyton Ernst, Coppell, Texas, 14.600
5. Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo., 14.500

Balance beam
1. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 14.900
2. Madison Kocian, Dallas, Texas, 14.800
3. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 14.700
4. Abigail Milliet, Denton, Texas, 14.600
5. Kennedy Baker, Flower Mound, Texas, 14.300

Floor exercise
1. Simone Biles, Spring, Texas, 15.050
2. McKayla Maroney, Long Beach, Calif., 14.850
3. Mykayla Skinner, Gilbert, Ariz., 14.750
4. Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo., 14.600
4. Madison Desch, Lenexa, Kan., 14.600

Men’s competition preview, schedule

Simone Biles, her name sparkling, extends 6-year win streak

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Simone Biles has long stood out for her gymnastics, but on Saturday she competed with her last name sparkling in silver beads on her World Champions Centre leotard for the first time. The gym’s other athletes had “WCC” on the back.

Biles lived up to the billing, extending her six-year win streak to 19 straight all-arounds, capturing the U.S. Classic, a tune-up for next month’s U.S. Championships.

Biles, the four-time Rio Olympic champion, scored 60 points in Louisville at the meet where she made her comeback last year after nearly two years off from competition. She prevailed by a comfortable 2.1 points over Riley McCusker, her largest margin of victory of her four U.S. Classic titles.

“I’m very satisfied,” she said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’m a little sad that I went out of bounds on floor [exercise], but overall I feel like there are improvements to be made.”

Full results are here.

Biles is prepping for nationals in Kansas City in three weeks, when she eyes a sixth U.S. all-around title to tie Clara Schroth Lomady‘s record from the AAU era in the 1940s and ’50s.

Then come the world championships in October in Stuttgart, Germany. Biles could win a fifth all-around to move one shy of Kohei Uchimura‘s record.

The world’s other top gymnasts may be her countrywomen.

Biles was outscored on balance beam on Saturday by 2018 World teammates Kara Eaker and McCusker and beaten on uneven bars by 2017 World all-around champion Morgan HurdSunisa Lee, Grace McCallum and McCusker. Biles swept all the gold medals at last year’s nationals.

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Geraint Thomas struggles; Julian Alaphilippe ups Tour de France lead

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LA MONGIE, France (AP) — When the team of Geraint Thomas was in its pomp at the Tour de France, a time trial followed by a big mountain stage would have been playgrounds for Sky — now in new colors as Ineos — to take cycling’s greatest race by the scruff of the neck and leave everyone else fighting for second place.

Not this year.

Thomas, the defending champion, cracked on Saturday on the Tour’s first encounter with a climb to above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), exposing unprecedented weaknesses in his team that has won six Tours in the past seven years.

The time trial on Friday and the climb up to the legendary Tourmalet pass on Saturday seemed primed for Thomas to reel in Julian Alaphilippe, the yellow jersey-holder from France who is setting the Tour alight with his punchy riding and determination to keep the race lead, filling French fans’ heads with dreams of a first homegrown winner since 1985.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

But instead, Thomas has seen Alaphilippe only get further and further away. In two days, the Frenchman has put 50 seconds of extra daylight between him and the Welshman. His lead — up to 2 minutes, 2 seconds — is becoming large enough to start realistically envisioning Alaphilippe in yellow in Paris next weekend as the first French winner since Bernard Hinault.

Fueling the ecstasy of delirious crowds that lined Saturday’s steep uphill finish, French rider Thibaut Pinot won Stage 14, putting him back in the picture to fight for the podium after he lost mountains of time on Stage 10.

Thomas rightly pointed out that the Tour is far from done, with six more ascents to above 2,000 meters still to come.

But his inability to stay with Pinot, Alaphilippe and other title contenders at the top of the Tourmalet — he was eighth, 36 seconds behind Pinot — was a mini-earthquake for the Tour dominated by his British team since 2012 — with champions Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and, in 2018, Thomas.

“Not the best day. I just didn’t feel quite on it from the start. I was quite weak,” Thomas said.

“At the end I knew I just had to pace it. I didn’t really attempt to follow when they kicked. I just thought I should ride my own pace rather than follow them and blow up on the steepest bit at the end. It’s disappointing. I just tried to limit the damage.”

Having taken cycling to a new level since 2012 with its vast budget and attention to the minutest of details, the team run by David Brailsford has been hit both by misfortune and by the inevitability that, eventually, other teams would start to close the gap.

A horror crash in training for four-time winner Froome, now recovering from career-threatening broken bones, robbed the team of its ace. Thomas’ own preparations were hampered by a crash at the Tour of Switzerland last month.

And Egan Bernal, being groomed by Brailsford to succeed Froome and Thomas, looks increasingly unable to compete for the title this year. Bernal was fifth on the Tourmalet and is fourth overall, 3 minutes behind Alaphilippe.

Pinot, now sixth overall and 3:12 behind Alaphilippe, is showing remarkable grit in bouncing back from his Stage 10 misfortune, when he was part of a group that got separated from other title contenders in crosswinds.

“I have this rage inside me, because in my opinion it was an injustice,” said Pinot, a podium finisher in 2014.

“Since the start of the Tour I had this stage in the back of my mind. The Tourmalet, it’s mythical,” said Pinot, who has three career stage wins at the Tour.

French President Emmanuel Macron, on hand at the top of the Tourmalet to see Pinot win and Alaphilippe extend his lead, gushed about the “two fantastic riders.”

“They attack and they have heart,” Macron said.

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

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