Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt ready to race after ‘off’ season, meeting Michael Jordan

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NEW YORK — Usain Bolt met Michael Jordan for the first time at the Super Bowl two weeks ago.

I just wanted a picture,” Bolt said. “You hear about Michael Jordan, and you see some of his films and stuff over the years. It was great to meet him, get a word in. I didn’t try to question him too much. It felt weird asking him about the past and stuff like that. So I just talked a little bit about basketball. Not when he used to play, but just random games and stuff.”

Bolt has a bit of basketball experience. He dunked in the 2013 NBA All-Star Celebrity Game.

The world’s fastest man spent Tuesday in the city that will host this weekend’s NBA All-Star Game, but the six-time Olympic champion said he won’t take part in the festivities.

No, Bolt planned to fly back to Jamaica on Wednesday morning after promoting Puma’s new line of Ignite shoes in Times Square. There’s work to be done following what he called an “off” season in 2014.

Bolt, 28, ran a total of 400 meters in competition last year, delaying the start of his season due to March foot surgery and ending it early in August, in part to ensure he was injury-free going into 2015.

Now, there are more doubts of Bolt’s dominance than at any time since he broke his first world record in the New York rain in the spring before the 2008 Olympics.

“People were writing that I retired, like I stopped running or something,” Bolt said Tuesday. “I’ve had a couple of bad seasons, but I’ve always come back and shown up.”

Bolt, who owns the 100m world record of 9.58 seconds from 2009, last summer clocked 10.06 on a Brazilian beach and 9.98 indoors in a Polish stadium and ran two relay legs at the Commonwealth Games.

Emerging rival Justin Gatlin had six of the world’s seven fastest times last year, including a 9.77, matching Bolt’s winning 100m mark from the 2013 World Championships.

This is a key year, a World Championships year, and the year leading up to what Bolt said will be his last Olympics in 2016.

Bolt is expected to debut this season in a 400m in Jamaica on Saturday, a not-unusual distance for him to open a campaign.

What are the goals? Triple gold at the World Championships in Beijing in August? Staying healthy? Setting up for the 2016 Olympics?

“It’s all of that really,” Bolt said. “For me, it’s always to go to the championships, to defend my titles, to get more golds and continue to add to my legendary status.”

Bolt said his coach cranked up the training program going into this season because of last year’s struggles.

“I need to put in a lot more work,” Bolt said. “I’m in no doubt I’m in great shape.”

Bolt said he visited the doctor who performed his foot surgery in Germany last March, and the doctor gave him a good-to-go signal.

If the injury taught Bolt anything, it’s to be more cognizant of his body.

“I just take notes of everything that happens,” he said. “If I feel a pain, make sure I check it out. Not like one time [in the past] where I feel a pain and I say all right, maybe it’s just from training. Now I’m really taking note of everything that’s happening around me.”

At the Super Bowl, Bolt joined one of the greatest gatherings of sports talent in history. He didn’t want to pester Jordan too much, saying the Charlotte Hornets owner appeared busy watching his team play on his phone.

But Bolt said he was “fascinated” by quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Robert Griffin III. He sought to ask both about the specifics of their jobs.

How do you stay focused with 300-pound men barreling toward you? What do you do when your primary receivers are blocked off?

“I got different answers,” said Bolt, a Green Bay Packers fan because that’s the first team he saw play on TV growing up in Jamaica. “For me, it’s hard. They’ve got to remember 200 plays.”

Many will anticipate Bolt’s return to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Stadium in August. He hasn’t been back since he broke the 100m and 200m world records seven years ago.

“People say it’s going to be pressure, because I’ve set a bar in the Bird’s Nest, so actually now I have to surpass that bar,” Bolt joked.

A showdown with Gatlin would add to the theater. Asked if he watched Gatlin’s races last year, Bolt chuckled softly. Perhaps it was in regard to Gatlin’s history. The American is five years removed from a four-year doping ban. Bolt has said he’s in favor of lifetime doping bans for those who purposely cheat.

“I try to be a nice person here, not say anything rude,” Bolt said, pausing to continue the thought. “He did well last season. So that’s good.”

Bolt addressed a number of topics, including an instance in Trinidad and Tobago since the last Olympics where a woman asked him for a hug, he obliged, and she started crying. That was a first.

“I call it my Michael Jackson moment,” Bolt said. “She was broken down in tears, shaking. I was like, this is weird. It was cool, though.”

And his famous victory lap at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, last summer.

“A victory lap takes an hour,” Bolt said. “Nobody wants an autograph anymore. Everyone wants a selfie for Instagram.”

And, finally, his planned retirement following the 2017 World Championships in London. What if Bolt lost his last individual race there? Could he retire with his finale being a defeat?

“I don’t think I could,” Bolt said. “On my last race, my last championship, I don’t think I could.”

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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 ProCyclingStats.com. 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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