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PyeongChang Olympic organizers downplay North Korea concern

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ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (AP) — South Korea’s Olympic organizers played down concern over ongoing tensions with North Korea on Monday and also said that work has been completed on all venues for the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Lee Hee-beom, president of the PyeongChang organizing committee, said the International Olympic Committee has made it very clear that the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games will go ahead as scheduled.

“There is no Plan B,” Lee said, speaking at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics shortly after the last rehearsal for Tuesday’s official flame-lighting ceremony.

“We know that the world is watching the current geopolitical situation on the Korean peninsula,” he said. “We continue to work very closely with all the relevant authorities and stakeholders to ensure we can deliver a safe and secure games for everyone involved.”

Lee said that all competition and non-competition venues are complete. He said infrastructure works, including high-speed rail and highways, are already done and will be fully operational by December.

Lee added that his main concern for the Games is the weather, and told The Associated Press that artificial snow will be provided if needed.

In the rehearsal among the ruined temples and sports facilities of Ancient Olympia in southern Greece, a Greek actress playing the part of an ancient priestess offered a token prayer to the old pagan gods of the site.

It was the traditional appeal for fire from heaven to light the Olympic flame, using a bowl-shaped mirror to focus the sun’s rays on her torch.

For a few fraught minutes, it looked as if Apollo and Zeus would not oblige. The priestess shifted position, walked around the mirror and tried again. On the third attempt, the sun slipped out from behind clouds for long enough to light the torch, which will serve as a back-up if Tuesday’s ceremony is overcast, as forecast.

Lee was delighted, saying that PyeongChang also won the Games on its third bid, and said he isn’t really concerned whether it rains Tuesday.

“Lighting the torch is important, the date is not so much important,” he said.

Tuesday’s first torchbearer will be Greek skier Apostolos Aggelis. He will then pass the torch to former Manchester United soccer player Park Ji-sung, a South Korean. The flame will be carried around Greece before reaching South Korea on Nov. 1.

The South Korean leg of the relay will involve 7,500 torch-bearers, who will cover a total 2,018 kilometers.

Lee said that the torch relay and accompanying events should help boost ticket sales. He said that about 30 percent of tickets have been sold domestically, and international sales are at about 50 percent of the target.

“We will be able to achieve full stadia,” Lee said. “Koreans are late decision-makers.”

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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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