Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold
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Ashley Wagner takes figure skating break; Gracie Gold set to return

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Ashley Wagner is taking her first competitive break after 11 seasons as a senior figure skater, sitting out the fall Grand Prix series, while Gracie Gold is scheduled to compete for the first time since January 2017.

“After the craziness of last season, I decided to take a breather and sit out of this Grand Prix season,” was posted on Wagner’s Instagram. “My passion for the sport burns very bright, but after 11 seasons on the circuit I am ready for a bit of a break! I am continuing to train and take this day by day, but I’m allowing myself the opportunity to open up the definition of what skating means to me!”

Wagner, a 2014 Olympic team event bronze medalist and 2016 World silver medalist, and 2014 Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova of Russia were the notable singles skaters missing from the Grand Prix assignments published by the International Skating Union on Thursday.

Gold, a two-time U.S. champion who was fourth at the 2014 Olympics, is the newsworthy name on the entry lists.

GRAND PRIX ENTRIES: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

She announced Sept. 1 that she was seeking professional help “after recent struggles on and off the ice,” then in October said she was in treatment for an eating disorder, depression and anxiety. Gold attended January’s U.S. Championships but had not announced anything regarding a possible return to skating.

The Grand Prix is the equivalent of figure skating’s regular season. The world’s best skaters each compete twice out of six events in October and November, with the top six per discipline qualifying for December’s Grand Prix Final, a prelude to the world championships in March.

This fall’s headliners are Olympic champions Alina Zagitova and Yuzuru Hanyu and silver medalists Yevgenia Medvedeva and Shoma Uno as well as U.S. champions Nathan Chen and Bradie Tennell.

The six Grand Prix series events are Skate America, Skate Canada, Grand Prix Finland (replacing Cup of China), NHK Trophy (Japan), Rostelecom Cup (Russia) and Internationaux de France. The Grand Prix Final is in Vancouver.

Wagner, 27, is the most accomplished U.S. woman over the last decade, taking three national titles, five Grand Prix wins and three Grand Prix Final medals. At her last competition, she placed fourth at the U.S. Championships in January, missing the three-woman Olympic team.

Wagner then withdrew from the Four Continents Championships and declined a spot at March’s world championships after PyeongChang Olympian Karen Chen gave up her spot after the Winter Games.

Sotnikova, 21, has skated just once on the Grand Prix circuit since taking the Sochi Olympic title over Yuna Kim four years ago and hasn’t competed anywhere since the start of 2017. Sotnikova has not announced retirement, though, unlike her Sochi teammate and fellow gold medalist Yulia Lipnitskaya.

Other big names missing from Grand Prix assignments already said they are taking a break from skating (Adam RipponMirai NagasuMaia Shibutani and Alex ShibutaniJavier Fernandez, Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot), retiring (Patrick ChanMeagan Duhamel and Eric Radford) or are simply not expected to compete again (Tessa Virtue and Scott MoirMeryl Davis and Charlie WhiteTatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov).

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MORE: Adam Rippon opines on figure skating future

Simone Biles, her name sparkling, extends 6-year win streak

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Simone Biles has long stood out for her gymnastics, but on Saturday she competed with her last name sparkling in silver beads on her World Champions Centre leotard for the first time. The gym’s other athletes had “WCC” on the back.

Biles lived up to the billing, extending her six-year win streak to 19 straight all-arounds, capturing the U.S. Classic, a tune-up for next month’s U.S. Championships.

Biles, the four-time Rio Olympic champion, scored 60 points in Louisville at the meet where she made her comeback last year after nearly two years off from competition. She prevailed by a comfortable 2.1 points over Riley McCusker, her largest margin of victory of her four U.S. Classic titles.

“I’m very satisfied,” she said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’m a little sad that I went out of bounds on floor [exercise], but overall I feel like there are improvements to be made.”

Full results are here.

Biles is prepping for nationals in Kansas City in three weeks, when she eyes a sixth U.S. all-around title to tie Clara Schroth Lomady‘s record from the AAU era in the 1940s and ’50s.

Then come the world championships in October in Stuttgart, Germany. Biles could win a fifth all-around to move one shy of Kohei Uchimura‘s record.

The world’s other top gymnasts may be her countrywomen.

Biles was outscored on balance beam on Saturday by 2018 World teammates Kara Eaker and McCusker and beaten on uneven bars by 2017 World all-around champion Morgan HurdSunisa Lee, Grace McCallum and McCusker. Biles swept all the gold medals at last year’s nationals.

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MORE: USA Gymnastics revamps Safe Sport policy amid abuse scandal

Geraint Thomas struggles; Julian Alaphilippe ups Tour de France lead

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LA MONGIE, France (AP) — When the team of Geraint Thomas was in its pomp at the Tour de France, a time trial followed by a big mountain stage would have been playgrounds for Sky — now in new colors as Ineos — to take cycling’s greatest race by the scruff of the neck and leave everyone else fighting for second place.

Not this year.

Thomas, the defending champion, cracked on Saturday on the Tour’s first encounter with a climb to above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), exposing unprecedented weaknesses in his team that has won six Tours in the past seven years.

The time trial on Friday and the climb up to the legendary Tourmalet pass on Saturday seemed primed for Thomas to reel in Julian Alaphilippe, the yellow jersey-holder from France who is setting the Tour alight with his punchy riding and determination to keep the race lead, filling French fans’ heads with dreams of a first homegrown winner since 1985.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

But instead, Thomas has seen Alaphilippe only get further and further away. In two days, the Frenchman has put 50 seconds of extra daylight between him and the Welshman. His lead — up to 2 minutes, 2 seconds — is becoming large enough to start realistically envisioning Alaphilippe in yellow in Paris next weekend as the first French winner since Bernard Hinault.

Fueling the ecstasy of delirious crowds that lined Saturday’s steep uphill finish, French rider Thibaut Pinot won Stage 14, putting him back in the picture to fight for the podium after he lost mountains of time on Stage 10.

Thomas rightly pointed out that the Tour is far from done, with six more ascents to above 2,000 meters still to come.

But his inability to stay with Pinot, Alaphilippe and other title contenders at the top of the Tourmalet — he was eighth, 36 seconds behind Pinot — was a mini-earthquake for the Tour dominated by his British team since 2012 — with champions Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and, in 2018, Thomas.

“Not the best day. I just didn’t feel quite on it from the start. I was quite weak,” Thomas said.

“At the end I knew I just had to pace it. I didn’t really attempt to follow when they kicked. I just thought I should ride my own pace rather than follow them and blow up on the steepest bit at the end. It’s disappointing. I just tried to limit the damage.”

Having taken cycling to a new level since 2012 with its vast budget and attention to the minutest of details, the team run by David Brailsford has been hit both by misfortune and by the inevitability that, eventually, other teams would start to close the gap.

A horror crash in training for four-time winner Froome, now recovering from career-threatening broken bones, robbed the team of its ace. Thomas’ own preparations were hampered by a crash at the Tour of Switzerland last month.

And Egan Bernal, being groomed by Brailsford to succeed Froome and Thomas, looks increasingly unable to compete for the title this year. Bernal was fifth on the Tourmalet and is fourth overall, 3 minutes behind Alaphilippe.

Pinot, now sixth overall and 3:12 behind Alaphilippe, is showing remarkable grit in bouncing back from his Stage 10 misfortune, when he was part of a group that got separated from other title contenders in crosswinds.

“I have this rage inside me, because in my opinion it was an injustice,” said Pinot, a podium finisher in 2014.

“Since the start of the Tour I had this stage in the back of my mind. The Tourmalet, it’s mythical,” said Pinot, who has three career stage wins at the Tour.

French President Emmanuel Macron, on hand at the top of the Tourmalet to see Pinot win and Alaphilippe extend his lead, gushed about the “two fantastic riders.”

“They attack and they have heart,” Macron said.

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

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