Can Tour de France stars contend for medals at 2016 Olympics?

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It’s a conundrum every four years. Can the world’s top road cyclists endure the grueling, three-week Tour de France and come back not only to compete, but also contend for medals in the Olympics in the same summer?

Great Britain’s Chris Froome did just that three years ago.

He finished second to countryman Bradley Wiggins at the Tour and, six days after the ceremonial ride into Paris, joined Wiggins for the London Olympic road race.

Froome finished 109th in a failed team bid to have Mark Cavendish win Great Britain’s first home gold of the Games) but took bronze in the time trial four days later, behind gold medalist Wiggins.

Of course, Wiggins, Froome and Cavendish were all keen on the Tour-Olympic double because of the opportunity to compete in a home Olympics.

Since professional cyclists competed in the Olympics for the first time in 1996, the single reigning Tour de France winner not to compete in the Olympics was Lance Armstrong in 2004. During that Tour, Armstrong said he declined an invitation to compete in the Athens Olympics, where the time trial was three weeks after the Tour de France finish, to spend time with his children.

Will Froome ride the Tour and the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016? The 2016 Tour will end July 24, and the Olympic Opening Ceremony is Aug. 5, adding a week more in between than in 2012.

There haven’t been many reports of Froome commenting on the Rio Games.

“One-day racing is always a bit of a lottery,” Froome said in 2014, according to Sky Sports. “I’m yet to get a big result in a one-day race, but if the right course came around and it was a really hilly circuit, it is something I could attack and go for. I’m quietly hoping that the Rio [2016] course would be a bit like that.”

The Rio Olympic road race and time trial courses, unveiled in December, do include climbs.

“Rio could very well develop into a really serious goal for me,” Froome said in 2013, according to Sky Sports. “It’s certainly something which would be a driving force in the back of my mind over the next few months.”

Nairo Quintana, Tour runner-up to Froome for the second time in three years, was not on the Colombian Olympic team as a 22-year-old in 2012, before his Grand Tour debut.

The 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali placed fourth this year. The 30-year-old Italian competed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics with a top finish of 14th in the Beijing time trial.

“I’ve had a look and it seems to be a tough course, difficult and suitable to my characteristics,” Nibali said in December, according to Italian comments in Gazzetta dello Sport translated by Cyclingnews.com. “We will see, there is still a year and a half, but I’d like to be a leader.”

Spain’s Alberto Contador finished fifth in the Tour de France, failing in a bid to hold all three Grand Tour titles at once. He finished fourth in the 2008 Olympic time trial and missed the 2012 Olympics due to a doping ban.

“For next year I plan my season similar to that of 2014 — to enjoy the start of the season in top shape and to do the Tour and then the Olympics,” he said, according to a Cyclingnews.com article published Saturday. “I think that next year’s Olympics is hard and as such can adapt to my style, which doesn’t happen often.”

Wiggins, 35, has turned his focus back to track cycling, where he won the first six of his seven Olympic medals over four Games. If Wiggins makes it to Rio and wins one medal, he will become the most decorated British Olympian ever.

Cavendish, a sprinter with 26 Tour de France stage wins, cast doubt in January that he can compete at the Rio Olympics.

“I want to do the Olympics, but it’s hard,” the 30-year-old said, according to the BBC. “I can’t do it on the road, can’t do it in the time trial, and on the track there’s just no way to qualify without quitting the road.”

Lance Armstrong rides Tour de France route: ‘still some hurt feelings’

At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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