Bode Miller, Ted Ligety

Alpine skiing men’s World Cup preview

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Any predictions for the men’s Alpine skiing season were torn to shreds along with Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal‘s Achilles tendon last week.

The revised picture is that of an Austrian seeking history, two veterans and a rising speed racer leading the U.S. men and a jumble of international threats across all disciplines.

Five storylines to watch as the campaign unfolds, beginning with a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Sunday:

1. Marcel Hirscher can stand alone

It’s pretty remarkable that a man with one career individual Olympic or World Championships gold medal has been the world’s best overall skier three years running.

But so it is for the Austrian Hirscher, who last year likened the pressure he skis under to trying to survive a pack of “a hundred crazy dogs who want to eat you up.”

Hirscher is a clear favorite to win the World Cup overall title for a fourth straight campaign this year, given the now-sidelined Svindal was runner-up the last two seasons.

No man has ever won four straight World Cup overall titles. Only one woman has done it, another Austrian of course. Annemarie Moser-Proell took five straight from 1971 through 1975.

Hirscher can take comfort that this is a non-Olympic season. He was a heavy favorite to win Olympic slalom gold in Sochi but was relegated to silver by countryman Mario Matt. Hirscher finished fourth, fourth and fifth in his other three career Olympic races.

Hirscher has proven more formidable over the course of a season. He ousted Ted Ligety for the giant slalom season title in 2011-12, then took the slalom crowns the last two seasons. He is so strong in those technical events that he wins World Cup overall titles racing few super-Gs, even fewer super combineds and no downhills.

His battle with Ligety in giant slaloms, beginning in Soelden, ought to be compelling.

2. Ted Ligety wants to be a ‘true champion’

Ligety finally won his coveted Olympic giant slalom gold medal in February, but he has said there is a trophy he would rather have — the crystal globe that goes to the World Cup overall champion.

“Because it’s a compilation of a season’s work,” Ligety said last year. “It’s really the mark of a true ski champion. Winning an Olympic gold medal is awesome. It shows you can really get yourself on the top level that day and push yourself. There’s a lot different things that can go into that, maybe the best guy doesn’t always win. The overall title, the best guy always wins that.”

Ligety is on the cusp. He improved from ninth in the overall standings in 2010-11 and 2011-12 to third in 2012-13 and fourth last year. He may be Hirscher’s biggest threat with Svindal out of the picture.

Ligety will go for his sixth career season title in the giant slalom, but he’ll need to capitalize in the faster super-G and slower slalom to close the points gap on Hirscher. He is the reigning World champion in the super-G, but Ligety has made the podium just once in a World Cup super-G race, five years ago.

No U.S. man has won a World Cup overall title since Bode Miller in 2007-08.

3. Bode Miller’s last season?

Miller had his best World Cup season since 2007-08 last year and capped it with his sixth career Olympic medal in Sochi. He said two months after Sochi that the 2014-15 season would likely be his last, but he has also not completely ruled out a run for a sixth Olympics in 2018.

Miller still has World Cup goals. Specifically, he would like to win the circuit’s famed downhill race, the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Miller has won two races in Kitzbuehel, but both were combined events rather than downhills. In the Hahnenkamm, he owns two seconds and a third over his decorated career that began before GPS navigations were available for driving through Europe.

“For any racer, Kitzbuehel is pretty much the pinnacle. It’s the top of downhill,” he told an Austrian media outlet in 2012. “I’ve never won the downhill here, and it is one of those things that I do feel is missing from my career and my downhill record book.”

This year’s Hahnenkamm is Jan. 24, very likely before the World Cup downhill champion Svindal returns from injury.

4. The next U.S. star?

Ligety is 30 years old. Miller is 37. They carried U.S. men’s skiing the last two Olympic cycles. The next man up may be Travis Ganong, a 26-year-old from California.

Ganong entered his first Olympics in February with zero career top-five finishes on the World Cup circuit. Then he finished fifth in the Sochi Olympic downhill. Then he finished third and fourth in the first two World Cup races after the Olympics last winter.

Ganong is a speed-event racer — he won’t ski the technical giant slalom in Soelden on Sunday — and could be a big beneficiary to Svindal’s absence this year. He’ll likely debut at the season’s first speed races in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Thanksgiving weekend.

5. Best of the rest

In the speed races, Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer of Austria is a promising talent at 24 years old, but he suffered a knee injury last week and hopes to debut in Lake Louise.

This could be the year that Kjetil Jansrud, the Olympic super-G champion, takes Svindal’s crown as Norway’s best overall skier and runs with it. He won two World Cup races after the Sochi Olympics last season and is fully recovered from blowing out his knee at the 2013 World Championships.

Veterans Alexis Pinturault (France) and Felix Neureuther (Germany) will look to unseat Ligety and Hirscher in the technical events, though Neureuther is out this weekend due to back problems. They all may be surpassed by Norway’s 20-year-old phenom Henrik Kristoffersen, the Olympic slalom bronze medalist.

Women’s Alpine skiing World Cup preview

2020 Tour de France standings

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2020 Tour de France results for the yellow jersey, green jersey, white jersey and polka-dot jersey …

Overall (Yellow Jersey)
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — 87:20:05
2. Primoz Roglic (SLO) — +:59
3. Richie Porte (AUS) — +3:30
4. Mikel Landa (ESP) — +5:58
5. Enric Mas (ESP) — +6:07
6. Miguel Angel Lopez (COL) — +6:47
7. Tom Dumoulin (NED) — +7:48
8. Rigberto Uran (COL) — +8:02
9. Adam Yates (GBR) — +9:25
10. Damiano Caruso (ITA) — +14:03
13. Richard Carapaz (ECU) — +25:53
15. Sepp Kuss (USA) — +42:20
17. Nairo Quintana (COL) — +1:03:07
29. Thibaut Pinot (FRA) — +1:59:54
36. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA) — +2:19:11
DNF. Egan Bernal (COL)

Sprinters (Green Jersey)
1. Sam Bennett (IRL) — 380 points
2. Peter Sagan (SVK) — 284
3. Matteo Trentin (ITA) — 260
4. Bryan Coquard (FRA) — 181
5. Wout van Aert (BEL) — 174

Climbers (Polka-Dot Jersey)
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — 82 points
2. Richard Carapaz (ECU) — 74
3. Primoz Roglic (SLO) — 67
4. Marc Hirschi (SUI) — 62
5. Miguel Angel Lopez (COL) — 51

Young Rider (White Jersey)
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — 87:20:13
2. Enric Mas (ESP) — +6:07
3. Valentin Madouas (FRA) — +1:42:43
4. Dani Martinez (COL) — +1:55:12
5. Lennard Kamna (GER) — +2:15:39

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TOUR DE FRANCE: TV, Stream Schedule | Stage By Stage | Favorites, Predictions

Tadej Pogacar, Slovenia win Tour de France for the ages

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A Tour de France that almost didn’t happen ended up among the most exciting in the race’s 117-year history.

Tadej Pogacar, a 21-year-old Slovenian, rode into Paris on Sunday as the first man in more than 60 years to pedal in the yellow jersey for the first time on the final day of a Tour.

Let’s get the achievements out of the way: Pogacar is the first Slovenian to win the Tour, finishing with the other overall leaders behind stage winner Sam Bennett on the Champs-Elysees.

“Even if I would come second or last, it wouldn’t matter, it would be still nice to be here,” Pogacar said. “This is just the top of the top. I cannot describe this feeling with the words.”

He is the second-youngest winner in race history, after Henri Cornet in 1904. (Cornet won after the first four finishers were disqualified for unspecified cheating. The 19-year-old Frenchman rode 21 miles with a flat tire during the last stage after spectators reportedly threw nails on the road.)

Pogacar is the first man to win a Tour in his debut since Frenchman Laurent Fignon in 1983.

And he’s part of a historic one-two for Slovenia, a nation with the population of Houston.

Countryman Primoz Roglic, who wore the yellow jersey for nearly two weeks before ceding it after Saturday’s epic time trial, embraced Pogacar after a tearful defeat Saturday and again during Sunday’s stage.

Tasmanian Richie Porte, who moved from fourth place to third on Saturday, made his first Tour podium in his 10th start, a record according to The age range on the Paris gloaming podium — more than 13 years — is reportedly the largest in Tour history.

TOUR DE FRANCE: Standings | TV, Stream Schedule | Stage By Stage

Three men on a Tour de France podium in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, each for the first time. Hasn’t been done since 2007, arguably the first Tour of a new era.

This Tour feels similarly guard-changing.

It barely got off, delayed two months by the coronavirus pandemic. Two days before the start, France’s prime minister said the virus was “gaining ground” in the nation and announced new “red zones” in the country, including parts of the Tour route.

Testing protocols meant that if any team had two members (cyclists or staff) test positive before the start or on either rest day, the whole team would be thrown out.

It never came to that. Yet the Tour finishes without 2019 champion, Colombian Egan Bernal, who last year became the first South American winner and, at the time, the youngest in more than 100 years.

Bernal abandoned last Wednesday after struggling in the mountains. His standings plummet signaled the end, at least for now, of the Ineos Grenadiers dynasty after five straight Tour titles dating to Chris Froome and the Team Sky days.

Jumbo-Visma became the new dominant team. The leader Roglic was ushered up climbs by several Jumbo men, including Sepp Kuss, the most promising American male cyclist in several years.

What a story Roglic was shaping up to be. A junior champion ski jumper, he was concussed in a training crash on the eve of what would have been his World Cup debut in 2007. Roglic never made it to the World Cup before quitting and taking up cycling years later.

As Roglic recovered from that spill in Planica, Pogacar had his sights on the Rog Ljubljana cycling club about 60 miles east. Little Tadej wanted to follow older brother Tilen into bike racing, but the club didn’t have a bike small enough.

The following spring, they found one. Pogacar was off and pedaling. In 2018, at age 18, he was offered a contract and then signed with UAE Team Emirates, his first World Tour team. The next year, Pogacar finished third at the Vuelta a Espana won by Roglic, becoming the youngest Grand Tour podium finisher since 1974.

Pogacar was initially slated to support another rider, Fabio Aru, for UAE Emirates at this year’s Tour. But his continued ascent propelled him into a team leader role.

Bernal and Roglic entered the Tour as co-favorites. After that, Pogacar was among a group of podium contenders but perhaps with the highest ceiling.

He stayed with the favorites for much of the Tour, save losing 81 seconds on the seventh stage, caught on the wrong end of a split after a crash in front of him.

“I’m not worried,” Pogacar said that day. “We will try another day.”

The next day, actually. He reeled back half of the lost time, putting him within striking distance of Roglic going into Saturday’s 22-mile time trial, the so-called “race of truth.”

Pogacar put in a performance in the time trial that reminded of Greg LeMond‘s epic finale in 1989. Pogacar won the stage by 81 seconds, greater than the margin separating second place from eighth place. Roglic was a disappointing fifth on the day, but he could have finished second and still lost all of his 57-second lead to Pogacar.

Pogacar turns 22 on Monday, but that might not add much to the celebration.

“Sorry,” he said, “but I’m not really a fan of my birthdays.”

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