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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MORE: 10 Tour de France riders to watch

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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