Chris Froome completes Tour de France-Vuelta double, Alberto Contador retires

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MADRID (AP) — Chris Froome paraded into Madrid to clinch his first Spanish Vuelta title and secure the elusive Tour de France-Vuelta double on Sunday, while Spanish great Alberto Contador celebrated the end of his remarkable career in front of his home crowd.

Froome had virtually secured victory with a solid performance in the difficult climb up the Alto de l’Angliru on Saturday, which marked the last competitive stage of the three-week race.

“It’s just incredible,” Froome said. “I’m still coming to terms with everything. It’s been such an incredible journey.”

Riders cruised to the finish in Sunday’s 21st stage, with the leaders not challenging each other, as per cycling tradition.

Italian Matteo Trentin won the final sprint to clinch his fourth stage victory in this year’s Vuelta.

Froome, who earlier this year clinched his fourth Tour de France title, had finished runner-up in La Vuelta three times, including last year.

The Team Sky rider became the third man to complete the Tour-Vuelta double in the same season, after Jacques Anquetil in 1963 and Bernard Hinault in 1978, when the Vuelta was still held in the spring before the Tour.

“Just the fact that nobody’s ever won the Tour and then La Vuelta afterwards, it’s incredible to be able to do it,” said Froome, the first British rider to win the Vuelta. “It’s just been an amazing few months and I want to thank everyone who has contributed to that. I’ve been fighting for this victory for six years and three years I’ve been standing on the second step so it’s amazing to stand on the first step this time.”

Froome won two Vuelta stages this year, finishing 2 minutes, 15 seconds in front of Italian Vincenzo Nibali of Team Bahrain-Merida, who won the Vuelta in 2010 and was runner-up in 2013.

Russian Ilnur Zakarin of Team Katusha Alpecin, secured the final podium spot, almost three minutes behind Froome.

Froome also won the points competition, while Astana Pro Team won the overall team event.

Contador, the three-time Vuelta winner, ended his career on a high note by winning Saturday’s difficult 20th stage. He was loudly cheered by Spanish fans as he arrived to cross the finish line one last time.

The rest of the riders allowed him to break from the peloton and ride a few moments by himself as the fans applauded. After the race, Contador took a Spanish flag and went for one final parade lap.

“It was very special to get to lead all the riders into Madrid,” Contador said. “It was an incredible finish. I dreamed about ending my career this way.”

The 34-year-old Contador had been out of contention for the Vuelta title after losing several minutes in a poor performance in the second stage. He made up time later in the race, but not enough to make it to the podium and eventually finished fifth, more than three minutes off the lead.

Considered one of Spain’s greatest riders, Contador also won the Tour de France twice and the Giro d’Italia twice. He was stripped of a third Tour victory for doping.

“It’s a dream. I can’t imagine a better goodbye than this,” he said. “Now is the moment to stop. When I started as a professional, I said I wanted to finish at the top level. And I think that now is the perfect moment for this. In the last 15 years, I did everything with my heart.”

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in Lake Louise downhill

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LAKE LOUISE, Alberta (AP) — Here’s a scary thought for her competition: Mikaela Shiffrin is still getting comfortable with the intensity and the speed of the downhill.

That’s why podium finishes are still a little surprising even to her.

The American three-time overall World Cup champion finished runner-up to Nicole Schmidhofer of Austria in a downhill race Saturday. Schmidhofer cruised through the course in 1 minute, 49.92 seconds to edge Shiffrin by 0.13 seconds. Francesca Marsaglia of Italy wound up third.

Schmidhofer has four career World Cup wins, with three of them arriving at Lake Louise.

Known as a tech specialist, Shiffrin is steadily getting up to speed in the speed events. This was Shiffrin’s fourth career World Cup podium finish in the downhill, which includes a Lake Louise win in 2017.

So, does Shiffrin anticipate this kind of downhill success?

“No, no, no,” the 24-year-old from Colorado said. “It’s certainly not normal (for a downhill podium). Even racing downhill doesn’t feel normal. But I feel every year like I have more experience and get more comfortable.”

Shiffrin currently sits at 62 World Cup wins, which ties her with Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell for second-most on the women’s side. Lindsey Vonn had 82 wins before her retirement.

“I’m certainly more comfortable with the long skis,” Shiffrin said of downhill racing. “Right now, it’s enjoying it, because speed is a little bit extra for me. My goal is to be able to succeed in speed as well. It’s making the transition and trying to have fun with it.”

Czech Republic skier and snowboarder Ester Ledecka finished fourth Saturday. She was the surprise winner of Friday’s season-opening downhill, which was delayed and shortened by heavy snowfall on the mountain. The race Saturday was restored to its full length.

Next up, a super-G on Sunday.

“It’s always been a little bit tricky for me from downhill skis to super-G skis and to change the timing a little bit,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to have fun.”

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