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Karen Chen, Ashley Wagner duel at Skate Canada; preview

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The top two U.S. female figure skaters go head-to-head at Skate Canada, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA on Friday and Saturday.

U.S. champion Karen Chen and 2016 World silver medalist Ashley Wagner open their Olympic seasons in earnest at the second of six Grand Prix events leading up to the Grand Prix Final in December.

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan, U.S. Olympian Jason Brown and world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir also headline the fields in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The Skate Canada broadcast schedule on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA (all times Eastern):

Friday — STREAM LINK
Women’s Short — 3 p.m.
Short Dance — 5 p.m.
Men’s Short — 8 p.m.
Pairs Short — 10 p.m.

Saturday — STREAM LINK
Women’s Free — 1 p.m.
Free Dance — 3 p.m.
Men’s Free — 7 p.m.
Pairs Free — 9 p.m.

NBCSN will air a highlights show Sunday from 11:30 p.m.-1 a.m. ET.

All coverage will stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. Olympic Channel coverage will also stream on Olympicchannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.

Women
The field here is deep, but let’s start with the Americans.

Karen Chen (no relation to U.S. men’s champion Nathan Chen) still needs to prove the kind of consistency associated with the three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner.

While the 18-year-old Chen won her first national title last season (in a huge upset) and finished a strong fourth at worlds, she has never placed better than fifth in four Grand Prix starts. And she was third at a smaller international event in Salt Lake City last month, outscored by Mirai Nagasu, who was fourth at nationals.

Chen must get through much more experienced skaters to reach the podium on Saturday.

Wagner, 26, made her senior international debut at Skate Canada a full decade ago and won this event in 2015. But she has something to prove as well. Wagner’s last season was her least successful in six years. She already threw out her Olympic season free skate last month.

Instead, the favorites have to be Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond, Japanese Marin Honda and Russian Anna Pogorilaya.

Osmond won Skate Canada in her Grand Prix debut in 2012 at age 16. She struggled with injuries the next three seasons, making zero top-level podiums, but re-emerged last season to take silver at worlds. If Osmond is truly the top threat to Olympic super favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva, she’ll notch her biggest international win in five years on Saturday.

Honda, the 2016 World junior champion with 244,000 Instagram followers, won her senior international debut last month against a field that included three of the top four from the U.S. Championships. Japan has only two Olympic spots, so she must be on her game early this season to impress selectors.

Pogorilaya imploded at worlds — 13th place — but was arguably the world’s second-best skater last fall. The 19-year-old won both of her Grand Prix starts and was third at the Grand Prix Final. Russia is so deep that Pogorilaya is on the bubble for one of its three Olympic team spots, along with another Skate Canada entrant — Maria Sotskova.

Men
Shoma Uno 
is the clear favorite here. The world silver medalist posted the fourth-highest score of all time at a lower-level event to open the season last month. Though the diminutive 19-year-old descended to earth at the free-skate only Japan Open, he remains the only man in this field with a clear path to an Olympic medal.

Canadian Patrick Chan is far more accomplished, with three world titles and an Olympic silver medal already to his name. But he lacks the technical firepower to win a seventh Skate Canada crown if Uno is clean with all of his quadruple jumps.

Jason Brown is the class of the rest of this field. Will he land a fully rotated quadruple jump in competition for the first time? It would be a big step en route to a possible second Olympic berth come January, when he’ll be up against consistent quad men at nationals.

Pairs
Five of the top eight pairs from the last Grand Prix season are in this field, led by two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and 2017 World silver medalists Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany.

Duhamel and Radford struggled last winter, with a seventh-place finish at worlds, where they were looking to become the first pair to three-peat in nearly 40 years. Problems persisted with three falls in their free skate at a low-level event last month.

Savchenko and Massot aren’t yet Olympic eligible — the French-born Massot is finishing German citizenship tests. They are the favorites this week given their success last season before and after the Ukraine-born Savchenko tore an ankle ligament — two Grand Prix wins, then silver medals at Europeans and worlds.

The other podium contenders are Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, France’s best pair in more than a decade, and Chinese Peng Cheng and Jin Yang.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier could really use two strong skates after finishing 20th at worlds and fourth against a weak field in Salt Lake City a month ago. They’re currently an underdog for the U.S.’ one Olympic spot in pairs.

Ice Dance
Tessa Virtue 
and Scott Moir went undefeated in their return last season after two years off. They’ve also won their last six starts at Skate Canada dating to 2007.

Nobody in this field should challenge the 2010 Olympic champions who already own the highest score in the world this season set last month.

The silver medal could go to Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. They were on the brink of breaking out a season ago, but Hubbell fell at nationals and Donohue crashed at worlds. Shocking in top-level ice dance.

Canadian’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are a great measuring stick for the Americans. They’ve been in the top five at worlds seven straight times but went winless last season in a step backward.

Bettering Weaver and Poje in Canada would be an important step to show that Hubbell and Donohue belong in Olympic medal talk.

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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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