Ten riders to watch at Tour de France

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Ten riders to watch at the Tour de France, live on NBC Sports from July 7-29 (broadcast/streaming schedule here) … 

Chris Froome
Team Sky/Great Britain
2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 Tour de France winner

If there’s one storyline this year, it’s Froome’s bid to tie the Tour de France titles record amid at least a microscope and at most a drug-testing controversy. Jacques AnquetilEddy MerckxBernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain all won five. Lance Armstrong of course claimed seven, but they were all stripped. Froome’s history chase is clouded by a September doping test that revealed twice the legal limit of an asthma drug. Froome was cleared of wrongdoing by the International Cycling Union five days before the start of the Tour, but he is sure to be the target of (at least) verbal barbs from fans.

Nairo Quintana
Movistar/Colombia
2013, 2015 Tour de France runner-up

Once Froome’s biggest challenger and still may be. Quintana won the Giro d’Italia in 2014 and the Vuelta a España in 2016, the latter being the last time Froome was beaten in a Grand Tour. Quintana struggled to 12th at last year’s Tour de France, but that was after racing the Giro that spring. Quintana skipped the Giro this season, but matters are complicated by having two other GC riders on his team.

Richie Porte
BMC/Australia
Fifth place, 2016 Tour de France

Porte was Froome’s right-hand man in the mountains for his first two Tour titles. He moved to BMC in 2016 and was tapped by Froome last year as his biggest threat, but Porte crashed out of stage nine in the 2017 Tour. Porte returned to win the Tour de Suisse last month (Quintana was third; Froome was resting after winning the Giro). Team BMC, which also includes American Tejay van Garderen, faces an uncertain future without a title sponsor beyond this season.

Mikel Landa
Movistar/Spain
Fourth place, 2017 Tour de France

Landa succeeded Porte as the strongest non-Froome rider on Sky. He missed the podium by one second last year and certainly looked strong enough helping Froome in the mountains to be leading his own team. Landa’s move to Movistar for this season doesn’t necessarily boost his yellow-jersey hopes. He’s on a team with two other GC contenders — Quintana and Alejando Valverde.

Vincenzo Nibali
Bahrain–Merida/Italy
2014 Tour de France winner

The only man in the field with a Tour title other than Froome. Like Froome, Nibali has also won all three Grand Tours (seven men have done this in history). Nibali, who left Astana for Bahrain-Merida in 2017, has finished on the podium in 10 of his last 14 Grand Tours dating to 2010. But he was 30th in his last Tour de France in 2016 and unimpressive in spring races.

Tom Dumoulin
Sunweb/Netherlands
2017 Giro d’Italia winner

Dumoulin’s success can be separated into two pots — time trials and the Giro. He earned Olympic time trial silver in Rio (between Fabian Cancellara and Froome) and won the world title last year (ahead of bronze medalist Froome). He captured the Giro in 2017, becoming the first Dutch man to win a Grand Tour since 1980, and was runner-up to Froome in Italy this year. Dumoulin’s best Tour de France finish was 33rd, and this is his first time racing the Tour after completing the Giro.

Romain Bardet
AG2R La Mondiale/France
Tour de France runner-up (2016) and third place (2017)

At 27, the youngest rider on this list. Bardet is again tasked with trying to end France’s longest Tour victory drought, now dating 33 years since Hinault’s fifth and final title in 1985. Strong in the mountains, Bardet is known for struggling in time trials. He nearly squandered a place on the podium on a 14-mile time trial in the Tour’s penultimate stage last year, losing 72 seconds to Landa.

Rigoberto Uran
EF Education First–Drapac p/b Cannondale/Colombia
2017 Tour de France runner-up

The surprise of the 2017 Tour podium. Uran was best known for taking 2012 Olympic road race silver. He went into the 2017 Tour with a best previous finish of 24th, though he was runner-up at the Giro 2013 and 2014. Uran helped usher in a strong group of Colombian riders, but no South American has won the Tour de France. Uran, flying under the radar by his spring results, will again have help from American Taylor Phinney and, especially in the mountains, veteran Frenchman Pierre Rolland.

Peter Sagan
Bora–Hansgrohe/Slovakia
Eight Tour de France stage wins

The most magnetic figure in the sport returns after being wrongly disqualified for his clash with Mark Cavendish in the fourth stage last year. Sagan is nicknamed “The Terminator,” is known to pop wheelies at races and inhale gummy fruit candy after victories. And that happens often. Sagan has won three world road race titles and five Tour de France points classifications as the top sprinter. One more green jersey in Paris to match Erik Zabel‘s record.

Mark Cavendish
Dimension Data/Great Britain
30 Tour de France stage wins

Cavendish’s Tour ended after four stages last year, breaking his shoulder falling from that clash with Sagan. That meant he remained four stage wins shy of Merckx’s record. Time is running out. Cavendish is 33 years old and won five stages total from the last four Tours. It’s getting more and more difficult for the Manx Missile to outsprint Sagan and the other 20-somethings chasing the green jersey.

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MORE: Froome cleared to race Tour, doping case closed

Katie Ledecky swims fastest at U.S. Open from B final

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For what must have been the first time in seven years, Katie Ledecky failed to qualify for an A final in one of her primary events on Friday morning. No matter, she swam the fastest 200m freestyle at the U.S. Open from the B final at night.

Ledecky, owner of 20 combined Olympic and world titles, clocked 1:56.24 to win the B final by nearly three seconds in Atlanta. In the very next race, American record holder Allison Schmitt touched first in the A final in 1:56.47.

Full results are here. The final day of the meet airs live on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Ledecky has rarely lost domestically in freestyles from 200m through 1500m since she made her first Olympic team at age 15 in 2012.

She kept the streak intact, giving her a sweep of the 200m, 400m and 800m frees in the first three days of the U.S. Open, what could be the deepest domestic meet before the Olympic trials in June.

Internationally, Ledecky faced challengers in the 200m free in this Olympic cycle, unlike the last one. Italian veteran and world-record holder Federica Pellegrini won the last two world titles, with Ledecky missing the event this summer due to her mid-meet illness.

Ledecky ranks seventh in the world in the 200m free this year but likely would have been faster if she was able to race at her best at world champs.

Domestically, Simone Manuel has crept up, clocking 1:56.09 to lead off the 4x200m free relay at worlds to rank second among Americans in 2019. Manuel was the third-fastest American on Friday, recording 1:57.21, her fastest time ever outside of a major summer meet.

In other events Friday, Phoebe Bacon upset world-record holder Regan Smith in the 100m backstroke. Bacon, who like Smith is 17 years old, overtook Smith in the last 25 meters and prevailed by .05 in 58.63. Bacon, while shy of Smith’s world record 57.57, took .39 off her personal best to become the fifth-fastest in the world this year.

Olympic and world champion Lilly King dominated the 100m breaststroke, beating a strong field by .62 of a second in 1:05.65.

Chase Kalisz won a potential Olympic trials preview in the 400m individual medley in 4:13.07. Kalisz, the Rio silver medalist, held off 18-year-old Carson Foster by 1.69 seconds. Ryan Lochte, the 2012 Olympic champion in the event, was fifth, 6.65 seconds behind.

Rio Olympian Townley Haas won the men’s 200m free in 1:45.92, his fastest time since August 2018. Haas, the 2017 World silver medalist, improved to the second-fastest American in the event this year behind Andrew Seliskar.

Torri Huske won the 100m butterfly on the eve of her 17th birthday. Huske clocked 57.48, taking .23 off her personal best to move from sixth fastest to third fastest in the U.S. this year.

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Ester Ledecka stuns again, wins World Cup downhill from bib No. 26

AP
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Consider 26 a lucky number for Ester Ledecka.

Ledecka, the snowboard champion who stunningly captured the PyeongChang Olympic super-G from bib No. 26, won her first World Cup ski race on Friday — also from bib No. 26.

Ledecka was fastest in a downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta.

She kept Swiss Corinne Suter from her first World Cup win by .35 of a second. Austrian Stephanie Venier was third. Mikaela Shiffrin was 10th in her weakest discipline. Full results are here.

“I am for sure more shocked than everybody here,” Ledecka said. “I was a little bit, not disappointed about the run, but I was not super satisfied. Then I was really surprised about the time.”

Ledecka, an Olympic and world champion in Alpine snowboarding from the Czech Republic, had a previous best Alpine skiing World Cup finish of seventh. The top-ranked racers all go in the top 20 of the start list.

Last season, Ledecka raced more World Cup skiing events than snowboarding events for the first time. She was forced to choose between world championships in skiing and in snowboarding due to schedules and picked the former with a top finish of 15th.

She’s undecided about her upcoming schedule. She could continue on the Alpine skiing tour with a super-G in Switzerland next weekend, or she could fly to Italy for a snowboarding event.

The women race another downhill and a super-G in Lake Louise the next two days. A full TV and live stream schedule for the weekend races is here.

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