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Russian gold medalist disqualified for Sochi Olympics doping

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GENEVA (AP) — In a landmark verdict that indicates Russia conspired to run a doping program at the Sochi Olympics, a cross-country skier who won a gold medal was disqualified by the IOC on Wednesday.

All results for Alexander Legkov in Sochi were wiped from the record. He was banned for life from attending another Olympics.

A second Russian cross-country skier was also disqualified and banned by the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday, while cases implicating 26 more Russian athletes in a Sochi doping conspiracy are pending.

With calls to ban Russia’s team from the PyeongChang Olympics likely to increase, the IOC’s executive board will meet next month to discuss the matter.

The IOC disciplinary panel did not have a positive doping test from Legkov but used evidence of cover-ups and tampering of sample bottles that was first gathered last year by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren.

“The IOC showed its determination to protect clean athletes from the very beginning of the case,” said the Olympic body, whose board meets Dec. 5-7 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The IOC panel did not give details of the evidence Wednesday. McLaren has said that glass sample bottles were scratched when broken into, and in some cases clean urine used to cover up doping was tampered with, revealing unnatural levels of salt and even DNA from the wrong gender.

Legkov’s gold medal was a marquee Russian success at the Sochi Olympics, which was a national priority for President Vladimir Putin and cost $51 billion to prepare for and host.

The cross-country skier won the 50km freestyle in a Russian podium sweep on the last day of competition. The Russian trio received their medals in the main Olympic Stadium during the Closing Ceremony. Legkov had earlier taken silver in the 4x10km relay.

Legkov said last year he had never failed a doping test, claiming he was tested so often that he couldn’t have doped without being caught.

“You’d have to be a complete kamikaze to do that in Russia if you’re an athlete representing our nation,” Legkov said then.

However, McLaren’s investigation said the Russian doping program was enabled by the country’s government, anti-doping agency and testing labs, plus sports governing bodies.

The second cross-country skier who was disqualified and banned, Evgeniy Belov, did not win a medal.

Lawyers for the two skiers disputed the IOC panel’s ruling while accepting a doping program was in place.

“So there is neither Prof. McLaren’s assertion nor proof that individual athletes have really participated in the system that has undoubtedly existed,” German law firm Wieschemann said in a statement.

The two are the first Sochi cases to be judged by the IOC panel created to verify McLaren’s work. The Canadian law professor had himself been appointed by WADA to examine claims by Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s WADA-authorized drug-testing laboratories.

Rodchenkov, who is now in a witness protection program in the United States, said he switched tainted urine samples for clean ones at the Sochi lab with help from what he believed was the Russian security service.

The verdicts announced Wednesday were the first from six cross-country skiers scheduled to have hearings at IOC headquarters this week. They include Maxim Vylegzhanin, who won one of his three silver medals in the Russian 50km sweep.

“Additional decisions from these first hearings will be communicated in the coming days,” the IOC said.

Other cases involving Russian athletes in different Winter Olympic sports have also been handed over to the IOC panel, chaired by Swiss lawyer Denis Oswald.

“The Oswald Commission has announced that all hearings for active athletes who could qualify for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 will be completed by the end of November,” the IOC said.

The Russian cross-country ski federation said in a statement it “has already begun to prepare documents for an appeal at CAS (the Court of Arbitration for Sport).”

The 34-year-old Legkov also has two medals from the world championships — a silver and a bronze in relay races — plus nine individual victories on the World Cup circuit. He now faces a ban by the International Ski Federation.

Legkov also threatened to file a libel lawsuit against Rodchenkov, the former lab director who is the key witness to the Sochi conspiracy claims.

At his news conference last year, Legkov spoke alongside then-Deputy Sports Minister Yuri Nagornykh, who stepped down after he was accused by McLaren of helping to cover up doping.

The Russian government says it has never supported drug use by athletes.

MORE: 100 storylines with 100 days until PyeongChang

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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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