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

Yevgenia Medvedeva leads after short program at Autumn Classic

Yevgenia Medvedeva
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Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva leads after Thursday’s short program at her season opener, the Autumn Classic International. In her first competition since moving to Toronto to train under Brian Orser, Medvedeva scored 70.89 points.

Olympic team event bronze medalist Bradie Tennell sits in second place heading into Friday’s free skate with 69.26 points. Tennell, the reigning U.S. national champion, was joined by countrywoman Starr Andrews in Ontario. Andrews scored 56.70 points and finished fifth in the short program.

France’s Mae Berenice Meite rounds out the top three with 58.23 points.

Earlier on Thursday, Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres from France scored 73.81 points to build their lead over the pairs’ field. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro from Canada were second with 64.73 points, followed by the two American teams: Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier (61.91) and Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson (50.25), who competed internationally as new partners for the first time.

Competition at the Autumn Classic continues this weekend. Friday features the rhythm dance, men’s short program, and the pairs’ and ladies’ free skates. Saturday concludes competition with the free dance and men’s free skate. The event will stream live on Skate Canada’s Dailymotion page.

Elsewhere in the world of figure skating this weekend, Rika Kihira took the ladies’ short program at the Nepela Trophy in Bratislava. The reigning world junior champion attempted her triple Axel to open her “Clair de Lune” program but fell and was awarded -5 Grades of Execution across the board. She tallied 70.79 points and leads Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva by just 0.8 points. Russian Stanislava Konstantinova is third with 65.03 points.

Russian men lead the field after the short program in Bratislava. Mikhail Kolyada scored 96.82 points while Sergei Voronov earned 81.77 points. Japan’s Keiji Tanaka currently sits third with 77.53 points.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc have a three-point lead on the pairs’ field after the short program with 65.68 points. Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay, the other Americans in the field, are third with 59.60 points in their first competition of the season.

Competition continues at the Nepela Trophy this weekend with the rhythm dance and pairs’ free skate on Friday and the ladies’ free skate, free dance, and men’s free skate on Saturday.

MORE: Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova delays season opener by one week

Despite protests, Russias anti-doping agency reinstated

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The World Anti-Doping Agency declared Russia’s scandal-ridden drug-fighting operation back in business Thursday, a decision designed to bring a close to one of sports’ most notorious doping scandals but one bitterly disputed by hundreds of athletes and described as “treachery” by the lawyer for the man who exposed the corruption.

On a 9-2 vote, the executive committee took the advice of the agency’s compliance review panel and declared RUSADA as having satisfied conditions of reinstatement that were gradually softened over the summer.

In most tangible ways, the decision doesn’t change much: RUSADA has been up and running for a while, bringing one of the world’s largest testing programs back on line with the help of officials from Britain and elsewhere. And Russia’s Olympic committee was brought back into the fold after the Pyeongchang Olympics, where athletes who could prove they were clean were able to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”

But RUSADA’s reinstatement now clears the country to again bid for major international events — although soccer’s World Cup was held there this summer despite that restriction.

It also clears a major hurdle for Russia’s track team to be declared compliant by that sport’s international governing body, one of the few to take a strong, consistent stand against doping.

Perhaps most importantly, hundreds of athletes and dozens of world anti-doping leaders see it as a stinging rebuke to the ideal of fair play.

“WADA’s decision to reinstate Russia represents the greatest treachery against clean athletes in Olympic history,” said Jim Walden, the attorney for Grigory Rodchenkov, the former Moscow lab director who exposed much of the Russian scheme.

WADA had been telegraphing the move since Sept. 14, when it released the recommendation of its compliance review committee. Olympic champion Beckie Scott resigned from that committee afterward.

“I’m profoundly disappointed,” Scott said to Canadian broadcaster CBC after the decision. “I feel this was an opportunity for WADA, and they have dealt a devastating blow to clean sport. I’m quite dismayed.”

Even in Russia, where the news was welcomed, it came with a sense that there’s still work to be done.

“These questions will always follow us,” said RUSADA CEO Yuri Ganus, whose appointment to the job was part of the housecleaning at the agency that WADA demanded. “These aren’t the kind of skeletons which can lie unnoticed in the closet. These are the skeletons which will be banging on the closet door all the time.”

The two biggest roadblocks to RUSADA’s reinstatement involved the country accepting findings from a report by investigator Richard McLaren that concluded the government had engineered the doping scandal to win medals at the Sochi Olympics. It also involved Russia agreeing to hand over a trove of data and samples that could be used to corroborate potential doping violations that stemmed from the cheating.

Over a summer’s worth of correspondence between WADA leaders and Russia’s sports minister about how to bridge the gap, a pattern emerged of WADA backing down from its initial requirements and, at one point, essentially asking Russia what it would be willing to say in a letter designed to satisfy the WADA review committee.

“We think that a small addition to the letter, if acceptable to you, could ensure that the letter is well received … and that a positive recommendation is provided,” WADA CEO Olivier Niggli wrote to sports minister Pavel Kolobkov in May in a letter obtained by BBC Sport .

In the end, Russia agreed to accept findings of an IOC-commissioned report that put less onus on the Russian government for the scheme, a move that Rodchenkov said earlier this week was done “for the pure purpose of protecting their top-level apparatchiks who destroyed the Olympic Games in Sochi.”

Russia also agreed to hand over the samples and data by Dec. 31. If it does not, RUSADA will again be declared noncompliant.

“Without this pragmatic approach, we would continue with the impasse and the laboratory data could have remained out of our reach indefinitely,” WADA president Craig Reedie said after Thursday’s executive committee meeting in Seychelles.

Critics said reinstating RUSADA before obtaining the data only amounts to accepting another promise from a country that hasn’t kept many over the five-year course of the scandal.

Travis Tygart, the CEO for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, called the decision “bewildering and inexplicable,” and urged a full revamping of WADA; Reedie also serves as a member of the IOC, which is one of the many conflicts of interest that bother critics of the agency.

“Let’s be clear: Absolutely nothing will be off the table for how we, the anti-doping community, begin the work of reforming WADA,” Tygart said.

Reedie said “WADA understands that this decision will not please everybody.”

“Clean athletes were denied places at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as other major events, and others were cheated of medals,” he said. “It is entirely understandable that they should be wary about the supposed rehabilitation of offenders.”