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Usain Bolt: ‘I know the sport needs me to win’

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LONDON (AP) — Whatever controversy is raging in the Olympic world there’s one constant: Usain Bolt‘s bravado and self-confidence.

It’s what is expected from the world’s fastest man and greatest showman.

“I know the sport needs me to win – and come out on top,” Bolt asserts, assessing the damage caused by the Russian doping scandal that has divided sports leaders.

As for his pursuit of a treble Olympic treble next month, Bolt adamantly responds: “I’m not going to lose one of the golds, for sure.”

In his last lengthy media appointment before heading to Rio de Janeiro, Bolt spent around two hours over a Jamaican lunch last week in London, discussing his Olympic challenge prospects and the challenges of life.

When letting his guard down does Bolt sounded less invincible. Weighing on the Jamaican sprinter’s mind is the fear of hitting 30 next month, the toll of injuries – and even being caught up in an extremist attack.

“It is scary,” said Bolt, adopting a rare subdued tone. “But if you live scared, you don’t live at all. So I try to live my life to the fullest and when it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Bolt recalls being in Munich as news emerged of the truck attack in the French city of Nice on Bastille Day – July 14 – that killed 84 people. Munich was itself the scene of bloodshed last week with a teenager shot dead nine people.

Bolt usually goes to Munich every three months to visit his doctor, Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt.

“Especially at the start of last year I noticed that injuries take a little bit more time to get back to where you want to be,” Bolt said. “My coach always tells me that the older you get it’s going to get harder, and you have to push yourself.”

But coach Glenn Mills also offered him comforting reassurance Bolt still craves, despite being the 100- and 200-meter world record holder.

Bolt remembers Mills telling him “don’t worry you’re a champ” at the world championships last year.

It was “one of the roughest years,” Bolt said, explaining how his back issue “has really deteriorated over the years.”

Bolt’s preparations for the defense of his Olympic titles (100, 200 and 4X100-meter relay) have been far from smooth, with a hamstring injury forcing him out of the Jamaican trials.

“I always have little doubts in my mind,” Bolt said in a restaurant overlooking London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. “But I’m focused and ready to go.”

Unlike many of the world’s top golfers, who have snubbed the chance to go to their first Olympics.

“I guess it’s not as important to them as it is to us who have been competing over the years,” Bolt said. “It surprised me when I heard that golf was going to be in the Olympics. There are a few sports in the Olympics that make me go ‘Argh.”‘

The Olympics are unquestionably the pinnacle of track and field. But providing the spectacle desired is proving difficult for the men.

“This year is one of the poorest I have ever seen as an Olympic (field) for men really – the women have really shown more promise running fast times,” Bolt said. “(The men) have really unperformed this season, but I’m sure when we get to the Olympics it won’t be like that.”

Bolt expects Rio to be his last Olympics, but he still dangles the possibility of a trip to Tokyo.

“My coach always says ‘Usain you can always go on to the 2020 Olympics if you want,”‘ Bolt said. “So this is why he tells me to stop talking about retirement and just take it a year at a time.”

The power of athletics in attracting big audiences would be more difficult without its global superstar.

“People always say to me, ‘Usain when you leave the sport, the sport is going to go down,”‘ Bolt said. “But I’m not going to look at it like that. There are a lot of athletes stepping up.”

Plans to overhaul the sport and make it more exciting have been sidetracked by the Russian doping scandal.

The vast majority of the Russian athletes who will miss the Rio Games are are in track and field, where 67 of its 68 athletes were ruled out when a ban on the Russian team was upheld at the Court of Arbitration for Sport last week.

Sebastian Coe, head of track and field’s governing body, has to deal with that.

But Coe is also the man tasked with making track and field “more exciting,” as Bolt explains.

“I’m assuming Seb Coe has a plan,” said Bolt, who advocates more street races. “Over time with different ideas, and the athletes that are coming up, the sport will stay current. It will take a while but I think it will get back to its former glory when I walk away.”

Unless he decides to continue, Bolt’s glory era is due to end after the 2017 world championships in London.

He is absolutely certain he will be greatly missed.

“In football you have the debate who is the best footballer, but no one can debate who the fastest man in the world is,” Bolt said. “It’s going to be a long time, I think, before somebody comes who will be as talented as me to break my records.”

MORE: Every Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt Olympic race (video)

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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