Simone Biles ready to take charge as Rio Olympics near

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CONROE, Texas (AP) — The little girl had to be in charge. It was her way of taking control. Of protecting her younger sister. Of trying to find order during a time when it was in short supply.

So Simone Biles anointed herself the boss, ordering around little sis Adria in their new home to give her something familiar to hold onto. The girls, Adria still in diapers, were living with their grandparents in Texas while their mother struggled with addiction back in Ohio.

“She thought she was a little mom in the house,” Nellie Biles said. “She made decisions for herself and her sister because this was all they knew.”

Nellie Biles and husband Ron adopted the girls 15 years ago, providing the structure they needed. They also unknowingly set the foundation that helped produce what could be the greatest gymnast of her generation.

Stardom, the kind that truly changes a life, awaits Simone Biles. The two-time defending world all-around champion will go for a three-peat at the 2015 championships Glasgow, Scotland starting this weekend. The ever-growing speck in the distance that is the 2016 Summer Olympics creeps closer by the day.

“It’s a little bit scary,” Biles said.

Yet hardly intimidating.

Biles has almost everything she’ll need for that journey. The infectious smile that already has sponsors writing checks. The accessible personality and the soaring routines that NBC’s high-definition cameras will beam into millions of homes next summer. The talent to make her the next in a long line of American gymnastics royalty that stretches from Gabby to Nastia to Carly to Mary Lou.

Most important: the support of a home life that strips away the hype and her own towering expectations and allows her to be just another 18-year-old.

“I want her to be normal,” Nellie Biles said. “I want her to be able to say, ‘I’m tired, I don’t want to be bothered.”

At home, she’s just a teenager who requested a belly ring after her first world title in 2013. The daughter whose chores include feeding the family’s four dogs. The girl who better be at her seat for Sunday dinner regardless of whatever time zone she may have been in the day before.

MORE GYMNASTICS: World Championships broadcast schedule

It’s a contrast to those difficult early days.

Simone Biles was born in Columbus, Ohio on March 14, 1997. Her mother, Shanon Biles, struggled off and on with drugs and alcohol.

At one point, Ron Biles received a phone call from a social worker telling him all four of his grandchildren were in foster care. He flew to Ohio and brought all of them to Texas only to have them head back with their mother after less than a year. It didn’t last.

His daughter’s parental rights were terminated shortly thereafter, with Ron Biles taking in Simone and Adria while his older sister adopted Shanon’s two other children.

It wasn’t exactly the life Nellie Biles had planned. When the girls arrived for good in late 2000, she was preparing to be an empty nester, with two sons getting ready for college. Now she had a 3-year-old old and a toddler. There were tears and prayer and the kind of soul-searching she wasn’t expecting at 50 approached.

“It was a hard transition for me because they didn’t have any connection to me and I didn’t have any connection to them,” Nellie Biles said.

Two years of counseling followed, Ron and Nellie figuring out how to make it work. And it did. Maybe that’s why the Biles have never felt the need to talk about it.

Even Simone’s coach, Aimee Boorman, didn’t know. Biles walked into Bannon’s Gymnastix on a daycare field trip and walked out with a bug that transformed into something far more than flipping around. But the Biles didn’t share their backstory until years later. They weren’t keeping a secret, exactly. It just didn’t seem important.

Though Simone remains in contact with Shanon Biles, she is quick to correct anyone that calls Shanon her mother. Shanon Biles is her biological mother. Nellie Biles is Mom.

Shanon Biles made the drive from Ohio to watch Simone win her second straight national title at the 2014 P&G Championships in Pittsburgh. It was nice weekend, but it wasn’t the beginning of some kind fresh start. There will be no shot of Shanon Biles in the stands at Rio next summer.

“It’s not something we bring her into because that would just blow it up and make it bigger,” Simone said. “We’re just trying to keep it small.”

As small as possible anyway. The drumbeat of celebrity is growing louder. There have been random knocks at the hotel room door by well-meaning but overzealous fans. There are major brands lining up to be associated with Biles, something she admits kind of “freaks me out.” Mention to her she’s still not verified on Twitter and she counters that she is on Instagram.

She verbally committed to UCLA, but then signed with an agent this summer. School will always be there. The opportunities that could pop up if she wins Olympic gold will not.

Her parents offered advice but left the choice up to her, just as they did when she graduated from the eighth grade and had to pick between attending high school or being home schooled, which offered a flexible schedule more amenable to a world-class athlete who spends over 30 hours a week in the gym.

She chose to stay home, another important step in a journey that has brought her simultaneously to the cusp of adulthood and stardom.

In a way, the Biles have all found a new identity through gymnastics. It is more than something their daughter does. The Biles are in the process of moving into a massive new space for their gym, a 50,000 square foot monolith that will include a taekwondo studio, a fitness center for parents, a study room for siblings and a training facility that will make the Karolyi Ranch — the home of USA Gymnastics located 45 minutes north — look antiquated.

Biles has no plans to one day join the family business. Her parents are fine with that, for now anyway. Like most 18-year-olds, Biles has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up. For now, she is the Olympics’ Next Big Thing.

That’s a lot of weight to carry on even her well-defined shoulders. Yet if the pressure gets to her, it hardly shows. Blame it on a sense of normalcy provided by a family cobbled together by circumstance and kept together by something far deeper. And blame it on a toughness that simply can’t be taught.

“She’s a survivor,” Nellie Biles said. “She’s been a survivor from a very, very young age.”

MORE GYMNASTICS: Nadia Comaneci chimes in on Simone Biles

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.”

MORE: USA Cycling names Olympic team finalists

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