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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

Loena Hendrickx on the rise, making Grand Prix debut at Skate America

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Belgian teenager Loena Hendrickx made her Winter Olympic debut in PyeongChang, and began her short program with the aim of becoming the first from her country to qualify for a ladies’ singles free skate since Katrien Pauwels in 1988.

Fresh off a 14th place finish in the men’s event, brother Jorik sat in the stands. He looked away as the music – a cool arrangement of Madonna’s “Frozen” – began, and covered his eyes as the 18-year-old set up for a planned triple lutz, triple toe combination.

Eight years younger than her two-time Olympian elder brother, Hendrickx knew the feeling.

“I get nervous when he competes, too,” she explained after winning a bronze medal at the Nebelhorn Trophy, an ISU Challenger Series event. “I might be even more nervous watching him than when I have to skate myself, because I don’t know how he’s feeling on the ice, and I can’t control his skate.”

She ultimately landed the combination – albeit under-rotated – and bested Pauwels’ result from Calgary by one place, finishing 16th overall. Even stronger skates were to come at the world championships in Milan, where she beat reigning Olympic champion Alina Zagitova in the free skate to earn a Top 10 total score and qualify for her first-ever Grand Prix events in the upcoming season.

“I’m very excited because that’s something you wish for. The first one is immediately in Skate America, so it’s very exciting. I’ve never been to the States before!”

Jorik was initially scheduled to skate alongside his sister at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Wash., but opted to withdraw and spend the start of the season working with other athletes, including Loena.

“He is working with me sometimes. I really can learn a lot from him because he has the knowledge and experience. I think he can teach me a lot.”

While the siblings work primarily with coach Carine Herrygers, Jorik assisted Loena in selecting her “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” short program music, another ’90s hit by Céline Dion.

“I really liked my program [“The Prayer” by Dion and Josh Groban] from two years ago, and so I think I chose the same style. I researched more of her music, and it was my brother who found this song. I didn’t like it at the beginning because I had another song I liked more.

“In the end, Jorik convinced me to take this one because it’s more powerful and I can skate better to powerful music.”

Hendrickx debuted the program in Oberstdorf, earning personal best scores to make the podium alongside Zagitova and Mai Mihara. More importantly, she achieved her pre-season goal of landing the lutz-toe combination – with positive Grades of Execution – in both phases of the competition.

While most of her competitors made waves as juniors, the Belgian struggled with multiple injuries – a 2016 stress fracture in her back, later a bone bruise on her landing knee – that kept her from eliciting the buzz many top skaters get on the Junior Grand Prix.

“After I healed, I was very happy to begin building back up again. For a long time, I worked on my fitness to make my back and body stronger. That made my jumps stronger and helped me perform better, more consistently.”

In a field that includes two-time world medalist Satoko Miyahara and U.S. national champion Bradie Tennell, Hendrickx heads to Skate America armed with a competitive technical arsenal, and a dose of inspiration imparted by her brother on the ice.

“In Belgium, there are fewer opportunities to be successful when you’re younger because it’s very difficult to combine skating with school. Jorik taught me that you never have to give up on your dreams. If you work hard, you’ll see where you can go.”

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series 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.

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Chris Mazdzer adds doubles luge after Olympic medal

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Olympic luge silver medalist Chris Mazdzer is doubling up this winter.

Mazdzer has decided to compete in both singles and doubles in World Cup events, in large part because USA Luge didn’t have another option to partner with Olympic doubles veteran Jayson Terdiman.

If the Americans didn’t have a senior doubles team ready for the World Cup, they wouldn’t have been able to compete in team relays this winter — and Terdiman effectively would have been forced into retirement.

“It’s a lot of motivation,” Mazdzer said Monday from Lake Placid, New York, where he and Terdiman took five training runs together at Mount Van Hoevenberg on the season’s opening day for sliding at USA Luge’s home track. “I like when people are like, ‘Chris, you won’t be able to do that.’ This hasn’t been done successfully in two-plus decades. But why not now?”

The move also brings Mazdzer back to his roots. He and Terdiman were successful as a junior team, medaling twice at world championships and winning USA Luge’s team-of-the-year honors for the 2007-08 season.

“It could be something,” Terdiman said. “We’re hoping we’re able to find that magic. It’s asking a lot, but we have a lot of confidence in our own abilities.”

Mazdzer became the first American men’s singles luge athlete to win an Olympic medal, grabbing the silver at the PyeongChang Games earlier this year. Terdiman is a two-time Olympian in doubles, going in 2014 with Christian Niccum and this year with Matt Mortensen. Niccum retired after the 2014 Olympics, and Mortensen retired after PyeongChang.

So Terdiman spent the summer without a partner, and a couple of hours before former USA Luge teammate Megan Sweeney’s wedding, he and Mazdzer got together for coffee.

“I thought about retirement a lot this summer,” Terdiman said. “It was going to be forced if I didn’t have anybody to slide with, and that was a very real thing until Chris and I sat down a couple hours before Megan’s wedding. We talked about him doing both. The confidence he has in himself is very large. He’s going to give it a shot and we’ll see what happens.”

Mazdzer understands that this means he will have a most unusual winter.

There are nine World Cup races this season, and six of those call for the men’s race and the doubles race to be contested on the same day — so Mazdzer will be logging very long hours at the track. There also were International Luge Federation rules to consider about training runs; sliders typically get five or six runs at a track before a World Cup, and Mazdzer will be permitted to get the full allotment of training in both disciplines.

“I’m really pumped about this,” Mazdzer said. “Having the team relay is a huge part of being on the U.S. team. I want to see the U.S. win team relays. I think we’re capable. We have a fantastic team and if doubles works out, we’ve got a shot.”

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