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Grand Prix figure skating: 10 male skaters to watch

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Ten men to watch this fall as the Grand Prix figure skating season starts this week …

Yuzuru Hanyu
Japan
2014 Olympic champion, two-time world champion
Grand Prix Starts: Russia, Japan

Will be the first man to go into a Winter Games as reigning Olympic and world champion since Dick Button in 1952. Hanyu also owns the highest recorded scores under a 13-year-old judging system. But he’s vulnerable, especially early in the season. Hanyu has never won his opening Grand Prix in seven tries.

Shoma Uno
Japan
2017 World silver medalist
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, France

Younger (19 years old) and shorter (5 feet, 3 inches) than countryman Hanyu, but with just as much jumping firepower, if not more. Hanyu owns the three highest scores of all time. Uno has Nos. 4 and 5, set at last season’s worlds and his opening, lower-level event this season. Will try to beat Hanyu for the first time in December, either at the Grand Prix Final, Japanese Nationals or both. If he does, Uno could go into the Olympics as the favorite.

Jin Boyang
China
Two-time world bronze medalist
Grand Prix Starts: China, U.S.

Bronze at the last two worlds for Jin, who like Uno turns 20 in the Olympic season. Also a noted quadruple-jump practitioner, Jin is erratic. He was fifth at last season’s Skate America, failing to make the six-man Grand Prix Final. He was also fifth at the Four Continents Championships in February before rising back to the podium against tougher competition at the world championships a month later.

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Javier Fernández
Spain
Two-time world champion
Grand Prix Starts: China, France

Missed a historic bronze medal for Spain in Sochi because he repeated a jump at the end of his free skate and earned zero points for the element. Became clutch on the global stage in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu’s short-program leads to win both world titles. But then did the opposite at 2017 Worlds, squandering a short-program lead and finishing fourth. Trains with Hanyu in Toronto under double Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser.

Nathan Chen
U.S.
2016 Grand Prix Final silver medalist
Grand Prix Starts: Russia, U.S.

A phenom in his first senior season last year. Chen outscored Hanyu in the Grand Prix Final free skate, then beat the Japanese megastar at the Four Continents Championships at the PyeongChang Olympic venue. In between, he became the first man to land seven quads at an event in winning the U.S. title at age 17. Chen ended up sixth at worlds, where he attempted eight quads overall skating on duct-taped boots. His sophomore Grand Prix season opens with a showdown with Hanyu in Moscow.

Patrick Chan
Canada
Three-time world champion
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, Japan

The Olympic favorite going into the Grand Prix season four years ago. Chan won the 2011, 2012 and 2013 World titles before taking silver behind Hanyu in Sochi. He rested for a year and beat Hanyu in his Grand Prix return in 2015, but Chan has so far been unable to match the men listed above in quadruple jumps. Fifth at the last two worlds.

Jason Brown
U.S.
Fourth at 2015 Worlds
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, Japan

A respectable ninth in Sochi as the youngest U.S. Olympic male singles skater since 1976. Brown won his first U.S. title a year later but struggled with injuries the last two seasons. He has also never landed a fully rotated quadruple jump, which has put him a tier below the six above men. Still, has a great shot to make the three-man Olympic team after placing seventh at worlds last season.

Vincent Zhou
U.S.
2017 World junior champion
Grand Prix Starts: China, France

Zhou has the quadruple jumps to contend. The 16-year-old actually was second to Chen at last season’s nationals but did not compete at senior worlds because he had zero senior international experience. He won junior worlds instead, with three quads in his free skate, to post the highest score ever by somebody his age. For now, it’s Zhou who is the top threat to Chen at nationals in January.

Adam Rippon
U.S.
2016 U.S. champion
Grand Prix Starts: Japan, U.S.

A decade older than training partner Chen and Zhou. Rippon will try for a third time to make his first Olympic team. He looked on his way after winning his first U.S. title in 2016, but a broken foot kept him from defending that last year as the two teens ascended. Now, Rippon will likely need to master a quad or two if he wants to control his own destiny to earn a spot in PyeongChang.

Mikhail Kolyada
Russia
2016 Russian champion
Grand Prix Starts: Russia, China

Yevgeny Plushenko‘s retirement left a gaping hole in Russian men’s skating. The 22-year-old Kolyada was fourth at his first senior worlds in 2016 but dropped to eighth last year, continuing the unpredictable results of the country’s next-in-line skaters.

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Annemiek van Vleuten wins La Course with epic comeback (video)

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Annemiek van Vleuten, the cyclist who returned from a horrific Rio Olympic road race crash to become world champion, repeated as La Course winner with an epic last-kilometer comeback on Tuesday.

Van Vleuten sprinted from several seconds behind countrywoman Anna van der Breggen to win the one-day race, including four categorized climbs, contested on part of the Tour de France stage 10 course later that day.

“With 300 meters to go, I still thought I got second, and then I saw her dying,” Van Vleuten said, adding later, according to Cyclingnews.com, “With 500 meters to go my team director in the car gave up and stopped cheering for me.”

In Rio, van Vleuten suffered three small spine fractures and a concussion when her brakes appeared to lock, and she flipped over into a ditch during the road race. Van Vleuten was alone in the lead at the time with about seven miles to go of the 87-mile course.

She was eventually hospitalized in intensive care.

Van der Breggen went on to win the Olympic title, while van Vleuten returned quick enough to race at the October 2016 World Championships.

Van Vleuten, 35, won her first world title 13 months after the Rio Games, taking the time trial crown ahead of van der Breggen by 12 seconds. She also won the 10-stage Giro Rosa that concluded on Sunday.

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Greg Van Avermaet triples Tour de France lead in first mountain stage

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Belgian Greg Van Avermaet more than tripled his Tour de France overall lead in the first day in the mountains on Tuesday, but Wednesday may be his last day in the yellow jersey.

Julian Alaphilippe became the first Frenchman to win a stage in this year’s Tour, claiming the 10th stage that included three first-category climbs and a beyond-category climb but ended with a descent and the contenders together in the peloton.

Van Avermaet finished fourth, 1:44 behind Alaphilippe. More importantly, Van Avermaet crossed the Grand-Bornand finish line 1:39 ahead of a group that included most of the main contenders to top the podium in Paris on July 29.

The Olympic road race champion increased his overall lead from 43 seconds to 2:22.

Van Avermaet has worn the maillot jaune for a week straight, but he is not a climber, and the biggest test of the Tour thus far is imminent.

“No disrespect, but he’s not going to win the Tour,” said Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who is in second place.

The Tour continues with stage 11, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Wednesday (full broadcast schedule here). The 67-mile stage starts in the 1992 Winter Olympic host Albertville and includes two beyond-category climbs. It concludes with a category-one summit at La Rosière.

“Tomorrow’s a climber’s day,” Van Avermaet said. “It will be super hard to keep [the yellow jersey]. … Tomorrow it will be over.”

Chris Froome, eyeing a record-tying fifth Tour de France title, is best placed of the pre-Tour favorites.

Froome is in sixth place and 3:21 behind Van Avermaet. Froome is followed by Spaniard Mikel Landa in the same time and 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali another six seconds back.

Colombian Rigoberto Uran, the 2017 Tour runner-up, finished 2:36 behind the group with Froome, Landa and Nibali.

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