Chris Froome ups Tour de France lead ahead of crucial climb (video)

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Chris Froome‘s lead in the Tour de France increased slightly as his closest challenger, Italian Fabio Aru, dropped to fourth place overall in Wednesday’s penultimate mountain stage in the Alps.

“We’re in a brilliant position,” Froome said on NBCSN.

Froome, eyeing his fourth Tour title in five years, led by 18 seconds over Aru going into Wednesday in the closest Tour de France in history.

But Aru struggled in Stage 17 and crossed 31 seconds behind Froome, fading over the final climb and failing to claw back on the descent to the finish.

Froome goes into Thursday’s crucial summit finish with a 27-second lead over Colombian Rigoberto Uran and Frenchman Romain Bardet. Aru is 53 seconds behind when counting Froome’s time bonus for finishing third overall Wednesday.

Primoz Roglic became the first Slovenian to win a Tour de France stage Wednesday. The former junior ski jumper won by 73 seconds ahead of the Froome-Uran-Bardet group.

Uran and Bardet, both chasing their first Tour titles, must snatch the yellow jersey from Froome either Thursday or in Saturday’s short, 14-mile individual time trial before Sunday’s traditionally ceremonial ride into Paris.

“I suddenly felt like I had much better legs than I had a week ago in the Pyrenees,” Froome said. “If that’s anything to go by, I’m confident in tomorrow.”

TOUR: Results/Standings | Highlights | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier Wednesday, green jersey leader Marcel Kittel crashed and abandoned.

Michael Matthews inherits the sprinters’ green jersey and should wear it through the end of the Tour, becoming the first Australian to do so since the last of Robbie McEwen‘s three titles in 2006.

Thursday’s Stage 18 features three categorized climbs, including the nine-mile, beyond-category Col d’Izoard at the finish.

NBC Sports Gold coverage starts at 6:40 a.m. ET, with NBCSN coming on air at 7 a.m.

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World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

AP
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1 (not counting matches played once they’ve already clinched qualification). The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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