Dylan Groenewegen wins consecutive Tour de France stages; cobblestones next

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AMIENS, France (AP) — Dylan Groenewegen has turned the sprinting battle at the Tour de France into a three-man race.

The 25-year-old Dutch rider won his second consecutive stage on Saturday, joining world champion Peter Sagan and Tour newcomer Fernando Gaviria as two-stage winners at this edition of the world’s leading cycling race.

Groenewegen entered the final meters of Stage 8 behind Andre Greipel, Gaviria and Sagan, but the Team LottoNL-Jumbo rider timed his last surge perfectly, swinging around his hard-charging opponents to cross first.

“It was a hectic (finish), but that’s every day in the Tour,” Groenewegen said. “I am very happy with my team. The last two days have been very good with two wins.”

Greipel and Gaviria crossed next, but their results were disqualified after they dangerously jockeyed for position in the final meters, though they both keep their times.

All of the contenders for the final podium in Paris on July 29 finished in the same time.

However those standings could be rattled by cobblestones on the road to Roubaix in Sunday’s ninth stage, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here).

Olympic road race champion Greg Van Avermaet, who is riding in support of BMC leader Richie Porte, kept the overall lead for a fifth consecutive day Saturday.

Van Avermaet picked up a one-second bonus overall during an intermediate bonus sprint at 20km from the finish. That increased his lead over Froome’s teammate Geraint Thomas in second to 7 seconds and his own BMC teammate Tejay Van Garderen to 9 seconds.

The only incident to interrupt the leg was a pile-up with just under 20km to go. UAE Emirates leader Dan Martin, the winner of Stage 6, bloodied his left elbow and tore the back of his shirt. Martin, sixth at last year’s Tour, and 11 other riders couldn’t reconnect, and Martin lost more than a minute, falling from 21st to 31st place at 2:47 behind.

Every cyclist at the Tour de France, from title favorite Chris Froome to the lowliest support rider, has Sunday circled on their calendar.

Riders will try to stay upright as they bump and bounce their way over 15 cobbled paths scattered along 22 kilometers of the 156.5-kilometer course of Stage 9 from Arras to Roubaix, near the Belgian border.

For four-time champion Froome and most of other title contenders, the ride over the cobbles is about surviving. The top riders who fight for every second on normal roads usually prefer losing time to risking a fall that could knock them out of contention.

As Movistar veteran Alejandro Valverde puts it, “You can’t win the Tour on the cobbles, but you sure can lose it.”

There is one exception to the extreme caution usually shown by the team leaders.

Vincenzo Nibali, the last rider other than Froome to win the Tour, took a huge step to securing his 2014 title when he skillfully traversed the slick cobbles to extend his overall lead.

Valverde and Alberto Contador were both slowed by crashes and finished more than two minutes behind the Italian, as did Americans van Garderen and Andrew Talansky. Froome had to withdraw from that fifth stage when he fell early before the course had reached the cobbles.

Froome did manage to make it through the cobbles in 2015 en route to winning his second Tour.

“I’m not scared,” Froome said.

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First Olympic women’s aerials champion Cheryazova dies at 50

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MOSCOW (AP) Lina Cheryazova, the first woman to win an Olympic aerials skiing gold medal, has died. She was 50.

Officials in the Russian city of Novosibirsk, where Cheryazova was living for the last two decades, said she died “following a lengthy illness,” without giving further details.

Competing for Uzbekistan, Cheryazova won gold with a triple flip when aerials skiing debuted on the Olympic program in 1994 in Lillehammer.

Shortly after winning, she learned her mother died three weeks before.

Cheryazova’s career was derailed later that year when she suffered a serious head injury while training in the United States, and spent days in a coma. She retired after failing to qualify for the 1998 Winter Olympics.

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Clare Egan notches first World Cup podium in biathlon season finale

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In the final biathlon event of the 2018-19 season, American Clare Egan recorded her first career World Cup podium finish, placing third in the mass start in Oslo, Norway. She hit 19 of 20 targets and crossed the finish line 10.4 seconds behind winner Hanna Oberg of Sweden. Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff finished second.

Egan, 31, made her Olympic debut at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, but considered retiring from biathlon at the end of the last season. “I decided that I wanted to do one more year, just for fun, just to see how much I could learn and how good a biathlete I could become,” Egan said in a U.S. Biathlon press release.

Her decision to continue has paid off: since the start of the 2018-19 season, Egan has posted the top eight finishes of her career (including three top-10 results). She concludes the season ranked 18th in the overall World Cup standings.

“I skied much faster this year than I have in the past and I think that was due to finally finding a good balance in my training, between working hard and resting. I did not train more, but the quality was much higher. I’m very excited for the next season,” Egan told U.S. Biathlon.