Fernando Gaviria wins Tour de France Stage 4 by a wheel (video)

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SARZEAU, France (AP) — Fernando Gaviria and Peter Sagan have turned the first four days of the Tour de France into an enthralling duel of rising star versus world champion.

And Tour newcomer Gaviria is winning so far.

Gaviria edged Sagan at the finish line to claim Stage 4 on Tuesday and take his second stage win in his first participation at cycling’s greatest race.

The 23-year-old Colombian had already bettered Sagan in a sprint to take the opening stage, amid rising expectations since his four stage victories at last year’s Giro d’Italia.

Sagan hit back by winning Stage 2 in an uphill sprint after Gaviria had fallen in a group pileup on the final corner.

Tuesday’s flat leg with its four-kilometer finish — the longest straightaway to conclude a leg on this Tour — was perfect terrain for the budding rivals to break the tie.

After Quick-Step hunted down the breakaway to set up Gaviria, he powered ahead of the pack with handlebars swinging and crossed just inches ahead of Sagan and Andre Greipel in a close third.

Sagan was closing fast and seemed to be on pace to overtake him just when Gaviria hit the line.

“He is faster than me,” said Sagan, the three-time defending world champion who excels in finishes on slight ascents.

“We will see. Maybe I will wait for some mistake (to beat him). And maybe we will see the next days on the climbs. Every stage is different, every sprint is different.”

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Sagan held onto the green jersey as the top sprinter and will wear it for a record-breaking 89th time in stage five on Wednesday. German Erik Zabel wore it 88 times in the 1990s and 2000s as he won a record six points classifications, according to Gracenote.

Sagan will match Zabel’s record six titles if he’s in green in Paris on July 29.

Belgian Greg Van Avermaet remained the overall leader, with BMC teammate Tejay van Garderen in second place with the same time. Van Garderen missed becoming the second (or sixth) American to wear the yellow jersey via tiebreaker.

Van Avermaet, the Rio Olympic road race champion, is expected to cede the race lead either in upcoming cobblestone or mountain stages. He and van Garderen will work for BMC team leader Richie Porte.

Porte, four-time Tour winner Chris Froome and the rest of the men expected to fight to top the podium in Paris all finished with the same time Tuesday.

The Tour de France continues with a hilly stage five on Wednesday, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here).

“Tomorrow is going to be a hard stage. It is a mini-classic in the Tour,” said Van Avermaet.

The Tour works its way east before hitting the feared cobblestones of Stage 9 and then heading south and into the mountains.

Froome, who was cleared of doping allegations last week by the International Cycling Union, has been jeered by some skeptical fans since arriving in France. During Tuesday’s stage, several syringes were seen alongside the course route in apparent protest by anti-Froome spectators.

Froome is trying to join the select group of Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as the only riders to win the Tour five times.

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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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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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