Ten riders to watch at Tour de France

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Ten riders to watch at the 104th Tour de France, whose every stage will air live from start to finish on NBC Sports Gold’s Cycling Pass:

Chris Froome
Team Sky/Great Britain
2013, 2015, 2016 Tour de France winner

Trying to move within one Tour title of the career record of five shared by Jacques AnquetilEddy MerckxBernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

Froome has been the anchor of cycling’s most powerful team for five seasons now. Every time the rail-thin Brit has reached the Champs-Élysées in that time, he has been wearing the yellow jersey. The only miss was when he abandoned on Stage 5 in 2014 after crashing three times in two days.

But Froome went winless in his Tour lead up this season for the first time since 2012. Plus, this year’s route does not suit his strengths, with just two summit finishes and no extended time trials.

Richie Porte
BMC/Australia
Fifth at 2016 Tour de France

Froome has called Porte his main rival this year, though that may be in part because they were Team Sky mates through 2015. Porte is in his second season as BMC’s general classification rider. Last year, his Tour GC hopes were punctured by a flat tire on Stage 2, where he lost 1 minute, 45 seconds. Porte ended up fifth.

This season, Porte won the Tour de Romandie and was second at the Criterium du Dauphine, both stage races with Froome in the field, plus the Tour Down Under.

Nairo Quintana
Movistar/Colombia
Three Tour de France GC podiums

Every year that Froome has won the Tour, he has been joined on the Paris podium by Quintana. The Colombian has gone from 23-year-old upstart in 2013 (second at his first Tour) to trail blazer in the sport. He is a Tour de France title from becoming the first non-European to claim all three Grand Tours.

This is the first time Quintana rides the Tour de France having already done the Giro d’Italia in the same season. How will he recover? The lack of time trial mileage will help the climber.

MORE: Tour de France broadcast schedule

Alberto Contador
Trek–Segafredo/Spain
Tour de France winner in 2007, 2009

El Pistolero returns for what could be his final Tour. Contador, now 34, would be the oldest Tour winner since 1922. But that’s looking unlikely. He failed to finish in 2014 and 2016 and has not made a Grand Tour podium in more than two years. Contador was also 11th at the Criterium du Dauphine.

Romain Bardet
AG2R La Mondiale/France
2016 Tour de France runner-up

The latest French hope to end the nation’s longest Tour title drought — now 32 years since Hinault’s last win in 1985. Bardet, who at 26 is younger than Froome, Porte, Quintana and Contador, was second to Froome last year after a gutsy Stage 19 win moved him up from fifth.

This season, Bardet was sixth at the Criterium du Dauphine, after being runner-up the year before. In comments before the Tour, he downplayed his chances to win, perhaps hoping to keep the French pressure to manageable levels.

Alejandro Valverde
Movistar/Spain
Third at 2015 Tour de France

Valverde has been competing in Grand Tours since 2002 and, last year, rode all three for the first time with a worst finish of 12th. Not bad for a man who turned 37 in April. Though Valverde is on the outside of the top GC contenders here, he should be very present in helping team leader Quintana.

Peter Sagan
Bora-Hansgrohe/Slovakia
Five-time Tour de France green jersey winner

One of the sport’s great, unique personalities. He demolishes handfuls of gummy bears immediately after races. Sagan can match Erik Zabel‘s record of six points classification titles that go to the best sprinter. In 2016, he won three stages and was named the Tour’s Most Combative Rider. At just 27 years old, there’s no reason to think he won’t eventually hold the mark to himself.

Mark Cavendish
Dimension Data/Great Britain
30 Tour de France stage wins

It was thought the Manx Missile might be losing steam after winning one stage between the 2014 and 2015 Tours (he abandoned the 2014 Tour after the first stage) and changing teams before the 2016 edition. But Cavendish roared back with four stage victories last year, including wearing the yellow jersey for the first time. He followed that with a long-awaited, first Olympic medal on the track in Rio. Now, he is four stage wins behind the career Tour record of 34 held by Merckx. However, Cavendish considers himself fortunate to even be starting an 11th straight Tour after being diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus in April.

Taylor Phinney
Cannondale–Drapac/United States
First Tour start

What a winding road Phinney, the son of Olympic cycling medalists, took to his Tour debut at age 27. First, he was a phenom on the track, winning individual pursuit world titles at ages 18 and 19. He later found road success, placing fourth in both 2012 Olympic events and taking silver in the 2012 World time trial. But injuries kept Phinney from sustaining that run. He missed 15 months in 2014-15 with a broken tibia, broken patella, a severed patella tendon and a ruptured PCL from hitting a guard rail at the U.S. Championships.

Andrew Talansky
Cannondale–Drapac/United States
2013 Tour de France — 10th place

There are three Americans among the 198 riders in this year’s Tour. That matches the smallest U.S. contingent in the last 20 years. Talansky is the only one of the trio with Tour experience and the only one with hopes of decent placement in the general classification. In 2013, he was 10th at his first Tour, then 11th in 2015. Last year, Talansky passed on the Tour to focus on the Vuelta a Espana, where he was fifth. No doubt Talansky will be expected to better the top U.S. result from the 2016 Tour, Tejay van Garderen‘s 29th, which marked the worst American high finish since 1996.

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Noah Lyles, Michael Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars

Noah Lyles, Michael Norman
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Noah Lyles remembers all of it. Michael Norman is a little hazy on the details.

Even if they compete in different sprints (as they are at this week’s USATF Outdoor Championships), Lyles and Norman will always be linked by the 2016 Olympic Trials 200m final.

Both 18-year-olds. Both racing in high school singlets. Neither was expected to contend for the U.S. Olympic team at the start of the 10-day meet. But each won his 200m semifinal at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus two years ago.

The next day, the top three men in the 200m final would make the U.S. Olympic team. Lyles and Norman conversed in the call room before the race.

“Talking about how we were just doing this last year,” Lyles said, referencing his 200m win over Norman in the 2015 U.S. Junior Championships, also at Hayward. “I can’t believe we’re here, high schoolers, trying to bring a whole new generation.”

They entered the stadium.

“I remember walking down the track,” Lyles continued. “I can’t remember which race was going on, but I remember seeing Galen Rupp there, so it had to be the 5000m [it was, and perhaps the greatest race of the meet]. I remember everybody going wild for the distance race. All the people slamming on the front of the stands. Just starting to get hyped.”

Norman settled in lane six. Lyles in lane four. The starter’s gun fired.

“I remember running at the end,” Lyles said. “I had no idea what place I was in. I just saw LaShawn [Merritt] and Justin [Gatlin, a pair of Olympic champions] in front of me. That’s all that I saw, so I was really hoping I got third.”

Lyles didn’t see Ameer Webb in lane seven. Webb got third in 20.00 behind Gatlin and Merritt. Lyles was fourth in 20.09 (a national high school record). Norman was fifth in 20.14 (personal best).

Lyles and Norman just missed becoming the youngest U.S. man to make an Olympic track and field team in 32 years. Both left Eugene satisfied, though.

“That would be the only opportunity that both me and Noah Lyles will be able to go into the Olympic Trials with zero expectations and zero pressure,” Norman said this week.

Lyles and Norman are already U.S. Championships headliners at the midpoint of this Olympic cycle. Part of that is due to the absences of Gatlin, Merritt and Christian Coleman. But also what Lyles and Norman have done since those Olympic Trials.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Entries | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Lyles is a co-favorite in Friday’s 100m, a complementary event for a man who signed a reported eight-year contract with Adidas shortly after the Olympic Trials.

The 5-foot-10, 160-pound Lyles is the son of Seton Hall track and field athletes. His first Olympic memory is watching Usain Bolt‘s record-breaking performances at the 2008 Beijing Games. He ran in R2-D2 socks on May 4, is a sneaker artist, dancer and Lego lover and apparently has “ICON” tattooed on his side.

Since Olympic Trials, Lyles is undefeated in outdoor 200m races. He broke 20 seconds in May 2017 but suffered a hamstring tear during that race and withdrew during the U.S. Championships the next month. He watched the August world championships from his Florida home, then beat the surprise world champion Ramil Guliyev at the Diamond League final three weeks later.

This year, Lyles set personal bests in the 100m (9.93, .02 off the fastest in the world this year) and 200m (19.69, tied for fastest in the world this year) and ran the fastest indoor 300m of all time.

Norman is expected to win Sunday’s 200m in his first meet since announcing he would turn professional after the NCAA Championships. Norman is forgoing his final two years at the University of Southern California.

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Norman also has former college runners as parents. His dad went to Ball State, then transferred to a junior college before joining the Navy. His mom said she was once the fastest Japanese middle school 100m runner of all time. Norman has no evidence, but he has seen pictures.

Like Lyles, Norman’s first Olympic memory was Bolt in 2008. He races in a headband after being inspired by 2015 World 100m bronze medalist Trayvon Bromell. Norman has “22” in his social media handles because it shares a keyboard piece with the @ symbol.

Norman was also slowed by injuries in that post-Olympic Trials season as he became primarily a 400m runner at USC.

Shin splints. A stress reaction in his back. A hamstring strain that he reinjured in practice five weeks later. Norman did compete at the 2017 U.S. Championships, but not at full fitness, and finished seventh, missing the world championships 4x400m pool by one spot. He said this week is about “self redemption.”

Norman’s sophomore year at USC was a healthy one. Norman broke the 400m indoor record on March 10. He has taken .99 of a second off his outdoor 400m personal best, winning the NCAA title in 43.61. That’s the fastest time in the world since Wayde van Niekerk‘s world record 43.03 at the Rio Olympics. Norman is now the sixth-fastest 400m runner ever.

“I see myself as both a 200m and 400m runner,” said Norman, who hasn’t raced the 200m at a significant meet since winning the world U20 title two weeks after the Olympic Trials.

Norman and Lyles chose to room together at the 2016 World U20 Championships in Poland. They joked who would be put on the 4x400m relay (Norman led off, Lyles anchored, and the U.S. beat Japan by .08). Unlike trials, Norman has a better memory of the experience.

“Before [Lyles] raced his 100m final, he was talking to a sports psychologist,” he said. “I didn’t really know that people did that.”

Norman also remembers that Lyles is 2-0 in their all-time head to head. They could have raced this week, but Lyles chose the 100m. They are both entered in a 200m at a Diamond League meet in Lausanne on July 5.

“That’s one of my huge goals for the year, race Noah Lyles,” Norman said at the Olympic Trials.

They haven’t raced against each other since that day in Eugene. Norman had a dry-erase board at his USC dorm room on which he scribbled goals,. Though he never wrote anything about Lyles, he is certainly looking forward to their next meeting.

“It brings some more light to the sport, having rivalries like this may pique other people’s interest,” said Norman, who has gone about a year without ice cream but will indulge a Baked Bear double-decker ice-cream sandwich at the end of the season. “As long as it doesn’t become a negative, where we’re not conversing or being friendly, it will be beneficial to track and both of our careers.”

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Five men’s events to watch at USATF Outdoor Championships

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The featured men’s events at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships have a bit of everything.

Dominance from Olympic medalists Ryan Crouser (shot put) and Paul Chelimo (5000m). Promise in the form of Noah Lyles (100m), Michael Norman (200m) and Grant Holloway (110m hurdles). Overcoming adversity — Matthew Centrowitz (1500m) and Clayton Murphy (800m).

A Lyles-Norman showdown in the 200m would have enough spice to headline this meet on its own, but Lyles decided against the double. That enhances the likelihood that the biggest story in Des Moines could come from one of many events on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

There is no Olympic or world championships team to qualify for this year, which is why established stars like Justin GatlinChristian Coleman and LaShawn Merritt are out.

But their absences could yield the emergence of first-time national champions. Just look at 2014, when that list included Tianna BartolettaKori CarterJeff HendersonSam Kendricks and Joe Kovacs, all of whom have since won Olympic or world titles.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Entries | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Five men’s events to watch this week:

100m (Final — Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel, NBC Sports Gold)
World gold and silver medalists Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman are missing, but two more impressive sprinters this outdoor season go head-to-head. Noah Lyles, who finished fourth in the 200m at the 2016 Olympic Trials at age 18 and is since undefeated in that event, drops down for his first 100m at a major meet as a professional. Lyles has the joint-fastest 200m in the world this year. He chose the 100m this week for two reasons — he can improve more in the 100m than the 200m over three rounds and to try something different given his race schedule the rest of the summer is tailored for the 200m. Lyles is forgoing a matchup with Michael Norman in the 200m this week, but he should have his hands full with Ronnie Baker. Baker, who grew up running cross-country and avoiding the moose in Alaska, has been the most impressive American in the 100m this year. Baker beat a slightly injured Coleman at consecutive Diamond League meets in May and, with favorable wind, should improve on his personal best of 9.93 and overtake the fastest time in the world this year (Zharnel Hughes‘ 9.91). As should Lyles, who also has a personal best of 9.93.

Shot Put (Saturday, 3:45 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports Gold)
All four men from Rio and the 2017 Worlds are here, including Olympic gold and silver medalists Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs. Crouser, whose father, two uncles and two cousins were elite throwers, has won 13 of his last 14 head-to-heads with Kovacs, who was taught to throw by his mom in his Pennsylvania high-school parking lot. Crouser also won his last 13 of 14 head-to-heads with Rio Olympian Darrell Hill, according to Tilastopaja.org. Crouser also has the top 23 throws by an American this year out of his 24 total legal throws in 2018 competition, according to Tilastopaja.

1500m (Final — Saturday, 5:40 p.m. ET, NBC)
Is Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz vulnerable? He was upset at nationals last year by Robby Andrews. Centrowitz revealed afterward that he competed on 10 days of training after a series of health problems that included an emergency-room visit with a viral infection. Then at worlds, a listless Centrowitz finished last in his first-round heat and said he was unable to get more than two straight weeks of healthy training all season. The 28-year-old heads into Des Moines ranked behind Andrews and Johnny Gregorek on best times this season. At last month’s Pre Classic, Centrowitz was beaten by a countryman (Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy, not racing the 1500m this week) at a major race at Hayward Field for the first time in five years.

800m (Final — Sunday, 4:13 p.m. ET, NBC)
Maybe the deepest field at nationals. The six fastest Americans since the start of 2016 are here. Clayton Murphy took bronze at the Rio Olympics but withdrew during 2017 Nationals with sore hamstrings and missed worlds. Boris Berian went from flipping burgers at McDonald’s to winning the 2016 World Indoor title and placing second at the Olympic Trials. He didn’t race at all in 2017 (Achilles) and ranks 186th in the U.S. this year. Donavan Brazier won the 2017 U.S. title and 2018 U.S. Indoor title at age 20 but hasn’t raced outdoors this year. Drew Windle took silver at world indoors on March 3. NCAA champion Isaiah Harris and Erik Sowinski are the fastest Americans this outdoor season.

110m Hurdles (Final — Sunday, 5:52 p.m. ET, NBC)
An intergenerational group with 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt, 2016 Olympic Trials winner Devon Allen and Grant Holloway, a rising University of Florida junior who won all four NCAA hurdles titles his first two years and ranks second in the world this season. Merritt underwent a kidney transplant in 2015, then missed the 2016 Olympic team by .01 and missed a national title in 2017 by .07 behind Aleec Harris (who is also in this field). Allen, the former University of Oregon wide receiver, looked primed to break 13 seconds after he won the trials in 13.03, but that remains his personal best. Holloway clocked his personal best of 13.15 on May 13 and is the only American to break 13.20 this year. It’s been nearly three years since an American broke 13 seconds, the longest drought in more than two decades.

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