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Chris Froome wins Giro d’Italia, is 3rd cyclist to hold all three Grand Tours

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ROME (AP) — Winning three Grand Tours consecutively was already enough to cement Chris Froome’s place in cycling history.

The way in which he won this Giro d’Italia, though, adds an extra dimension to the achievement.

The Kenyan-born British rider bounced back from two early crashes to storm into the lead two days from the end with an 80-kilometer (50-mile) solo attack in the three-week race’s toughest stage.

“I think the manner of the victory is the thing that impresses everybody. That’s the thing that will stay in everybody’s mind. This is going to be such a signature victory of his career,” Team Sky director Dave Brailsford told The Associated Press as Froome wrapped up the title Sunday.

“The manner that he won this race was absolutely incredible. It’s what bike racing is all about — it’s exciting, it’s spectacular,” Brailsford added. “I’m sure it will define his career over time.”

For a rider who had hitherto been known for his calculating, mechanical style, the attack up a gravel road so far from the finish on Stage 19 was “crazy,” as he himself described it.

“It just felt so raw,” Froome said. “This is for me what bike racing is about.”

Froome has now won the Tour de France, Spanish Vuelta and Giro in succession, becoming only the third cyclist to hold all three Grand Tour titles at the same time and the first to achieve the feat since the Vuelta was moved to the end of the season in 1995.

Eddy Merckx won four straight between 1972 and 1973. Bernard Hinault took three in a row in 1982 and 1983.

“This was always going to be the biggest challenge of my career,” Froome said, alluding to the “unpredictable” nature of the Giro. “But now I’ve done the triple and there’s no greater award for a professional cyclist.”

Froome, a four-time Tour de France champion, had no trouble in maintaining his 46-second lead over defending champion Tom Dumoulin in the mostly ceremonial final stage through historic Rome. He rode a special pink-colored bike for the final stage, while his Team Sky teammates had pink handlebars.

Afterward, Froome announced that his wife is pregnant and due in August. He dedicated the victory to his daughter to be.

Froome arrived at the Giro with big hopes but was not a threat early on after crashing in training before the opening time trial, losing time in a split on stage four, and injuring himself again in a second crash four days later.

But he started to climb back up the standings by winning Stage 14 up Monte Zoncolan — one of the toughest climbs in Europe — then erased more than a three-minute deficit and claimed the pink jersey with his attack on the Colle delle Finestre.

“This one is quite special,” Sky sports director Nicolas Portal said. “It was a totally different race than we’re used to.”

Froome is racing under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample he provided at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level. It remains unclear when the International Cycling Union will rule on the case.

“I had every right to be here and as I’ve said before I know I’ve done nothing wrong,” Froome said.

It was Froome’s sixth Grand Tour win overall and he becomes the seventh rider to win all three Grand Tours over their careers (Merckx, Hinault, Jacques AnquetilFelice GimondiAlberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali). He’s also the first Briton to win the Giro.

Up next for Froome: an attempt at a record-tying fifth Tour title in July.

“That’s my next objective,” he said.

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VIDEO: 17-year-old runs 3:52 mile at Pre Classic

Simone Biles routing field, edging note card at U.S. Gymnastics Championships

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BOSTON — Simone Biles leads the field by a whopping 3.1 points halfway through the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. She beat the number at the bottom of the note card in her locker at the World Champions Centre in Texas by a much smaller margin.

No matter the perspective, Biles was more dominant on Friday night than during most of the Rio Olympic cycle. In just her second meet in two years. Nine months after returning to training after a 14-month break.

Biles tallied the highest score on every apparatus in the field and the world’s highest all-around score since Rio — 60.1 points. The second-highest score since Rio? Biles’ 58.7 from her comeback meet at the U.S. Classic three weeks ago.

“At Classics, I was still easing back into everything and kind of feeling the surroundings and getting used to competing again,” Biles, 21, said on the fifth anniversary of her first U.S. all-around title. “I feel like today I really embraced it.”

NATIONALS: Scores | TV/Stream Schedule

In the last Olympic cycle, Biles averaged a 1.94-point lead after the first day of nationals.

She rolls into the final day of competition Sunday, looking to become the first woman to win five U.S. all-around titles and the first non-teen to win since 1971. And send another message ahead of October’s world championships.

Morgan Hurd, who won the 2017 World all-around title in Biles’ absence, is in a distant second after four clean routines. The margin between Biles and Hurd is greater than the margin between Hurd and the eighth-place gymnast.

Asked to put her 60-pointer in perspective, Biles brought up the note card.

“I think it says 60 at the bottom,” said Biles, who hit 62.366 in Rio under a different scoring system.

Biles hit 60 points in a practice meet at her gym right before she left for the U.S. Classic. Her new coaches, Cecile and Laurent Landi, encouraged Biles to keep the visual reminder placed in her locker leading up to nationals.

“I wanted to show her that she could reach that score,” Laurent Landi said. “It’s not a big deal. If she does normal, she can be there.”

But nobody else can. Biles had 25.4 total points in difficulty on Friday. The next-highest gymnast (Hurd) had 22.7.

Biles essentially began the meet with a 2.7-point head start. She then was judged to have better overall execution than everybody else, even though she had the disadvantage of performing harder routines.

“She’s just mentally there,” said Riley McCusker, who led Biles going into the last rotation at the U.S. Classic and is in third place here. “She can take that time off and [be] physically there, too.”

BILES ROUTINES: Balance Beam | Floor Exercise | Uneven Bars | Vault 1 | Vault 2

Biles’ flaw in her comeback meet three weeks ago was the uneven bars. She fell trying a more difficult routine than in Rio.

On Friday, Biles nailed her bars set, receiving applause from Laurent Landi, who coached Madison Kocian to a bars silver in Rio.

Biles has never won a national title on bars. At the Olympics, she had the highest scores in the all-around on beam, floor and vault and the seventh-highest score on bars.

“She needs to go through more mental belief that she [belongs] at this level on the bars,” said Laurent Landi, a 40-year-old former French gymnast.

Landi insisted Biles was not at her best Friday. He noted her two overcooked tumbling passes on floor that cost her six tenths for going out of bounds. Imperfect landings on other events. He dismissed Biles’ lead and said he already has plans for upgraded routines before worlds, next year and possibly in the Olympic year.

“Sometimes when it’s difficult in the gym, we, my wife and I, try just to remind her who she’s trying to beat,” he said. “It’s herself.”

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GYM NATIONALS: TV/Stream Schedule | Where Are The Final Five?

Laurie Hernandez faces big decisions before comeback

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BOSTON — Laurie Hernandez still hopes to compete in 2019, but she must find a coach and a gym first. And transition from conditioning to regular gymnastics training.

“Kind of dipping my toe in the water,” she said Friday at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, where she is strictly a spectator.

Hernandez hasn’t competed since earning team gold and balance beam silver in Rio. Other than Simone Biles, she is the only member of the Final Five openly expressing a desire to return to elite competition next year.

“Because I’m still passionate about it,” she said. “Ever since I was a little girl I’ve always loved it, and I still do. It’s still really important to me.”

Hernandez said she has been on gymnastics equipment every so often but not consistently. She has said hello to new U.S. high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster.

She hopes to pick Aly Raisman‘s brain about coming back. Raisman took almost a year off after the 2012 London Games, then trained for a full year before returning to competition in March 2015.

Unlike Raisman, Hernandez said there is no unfinished business from the Olympics that motivates her.

“I know what I’m getting myself into,” Hernandez said. “It’s kind of like curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought it back. Being 16, being so curious, not really knowing what I’m walking into, that was such an interesting experience [in Rio].”

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GYM NATIONALS: TV/Stream Schedule | Where Are The Final Five?