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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

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics