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Simone Biles eyes medal that has eluded her at world championships

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Whenever Simone Biles takes the competition floor, she’s setting out for some kind of history. But it’s what’s in her own past that’s motivating at this week’s world championships, her first international meet since bagging four gold medals at the Rio Olympics.

“I’ve never medaled in a bar final [uneven bars], but I’ve only been in one,” Biles said last week when asked the event she would most like to win aside from the team competition. “Maybe if I could make a bar final, that would be pretty cool because I think of all the medals you can get and the finals you can participate in, I always admire the bar workers just because it’s so hard mentally and physically.”

Biles’ U.S. team is an overwhelming favorite to earn a sixth straight Olympic or world title in Doha — the longest female run of dominance in the sport since the 1970s Soviet teams.

She’s just as expected to grab a fourth world all-around crown, breaking a tie with Russian Svetlana Khorkina for the female record. (Worlds were not held as often in the era of legends Larisa Latynina, Vera Caslavska and Nadia Comaneci.)

Men’s qualifying starts Thursday. The U.S. women’s qualifying session is Saturday. The women’s team final is next Tuesday, followed by the all-around two days later and individual apparatus finals the two days after that.

MORE: Gymnastics worlds TV schedule

Biles is the lone member of the U.S. women’s team of six (one will be named an alternate) who has competed at an Olympics or in a world championships team competition.

That doesn’t mean they’re not decorated.

Morgan Hurd won the world all-around title in Biles’ year off in 2017 (when there was no team event). Ragan Smith was favored over Hurd for last year’s gold before tearing ankle ligaments on a warm-up vault minutes before introductions. Riley McCusker made the U.S. all-around podium the last two years.

But of Rio’s Final Five, only Biles has competed on the elite level since the Games.

“We have a different group of girls,” Biles said. “They’re all upcoming and trying to make a name for themselves. … Here I am a veteran.”

Most of Biles’ teammates speak of her in awe.

“Just watching her compete is inspiring,” said Kara Eaker, a balance beam star who was 10 years old when Biles won her first world title in 2013.

What else Biles can do next week in Doha: with three gold medals, pass Vitaly Scherbo‘s 12 for the most in worlds history. Have a vault named after her, if she becomes the first woman to perform the Cheng with an extra half twist. Biles stuck it at the world team selection camp two weeks ago.

“It’s shocking, actually, how easily she does some of these moves,” said Tom Forster, in his first year as U.S. high-performance team director. Forster was asked last week about which five gymnasts of the six were going to compete for the U.S. “I know you’re not going to be surprised by this, but definitely going to use Simone,” was his lone concrete statement.

“She’s really the epitome of what coaches talk about in every sport, an athlete that’s very focused, works really hard, has natural ability and has good technique,” Forster continued. “It’s uncommon to get all those attributes together in one person in any sport. When you do, you get Simone.”

The lone apparatus that Biles has not conquered internationally is the uneven bars. In 2014, Biles said all she wanted for Christmas was to become a good bars worker. During her year off, she dreamed that she went back to the gym and couldn’t do a single giant swing on the apparatus.

Biles has made one uneven bars final at worlds — placing fourth in 2013 — and was 14th in Rio.

When Biles returned to training less than a year ago, her new coach, Laurent Landi, was best known for guiding a bars specialist — Olympic silver medalist Madison Kocian. In her comeback this summer, Biles brought her most difficult bars set yet and won her first national title on the apparatus.

“Never thought at this point in my career I would be most confident on bars,” she tweeted last month.

Biles snapchatted from Doha on Friday the first page of a book’s third chapter titled, “You are not Special.” Read into that what you will. An excerpt:

“Cultivating the mind through learning from failures is more effective than making yourself feel special even for the most trivial things. … High self-esteem is displayed in recognizing your weaknesses and striving to overcome them.”

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MORE: USA Gymnastics CEO resigns after Simone Biles’ criticism

Geraint Thomas cuts Julian Alaphilippe’s Tour de France lead

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FOIX, France (AP) — When one French rider starts to fade, another comes to the fore. One way or the other, France may still be on course for its first Tour de France winner since 1985.

Dancing over his saddle, his mouth wide open and gasping for air, Thibaut Pinot launched a ferocious attack Sunday and profited from the first signs of weakness in the high mountains from French race leader Julian Alaphilippe to edge closer to the yellow jersey in the overall standings.

Ascending the last uphill finish in the Pyrenees with a display of power and fluidity that signaled that he’ll also be a major contender to win the Tour, Pinot gained time on all his rivals for the second consecutive day following his triumph at the famed Tourmalet mountain in the previous stage.

Heading to the second and final rest day Monday ahead of what promises to be a climactic final week in the Alps, the race is exquisitely poised. Six riders are all within 2 minutes, 14 seconds of each other at the top of the standings.

The six terrible ascents above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) in the Alps, peppered over three mountain stages, will likely decide who will stand on top of the podium on the Champs-Elysees next Sunday.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

“The high mountains have only just begun,” said Alaphilippe. “The Alps are going to be a big mouthful.”

Surging from the mist and rain, Pinot crossed the finish line of Sunday’s Stage 15 in second place, 33 seconds behind Simon Yates, who posted a second stage win after a long solo raid, three days after his first stage victory in the southwestern mountain range.

The 29-year-old Pinot was irresistible when he made his move seven kilometers from the summit. Only Emanuel Buchmann and defending champion Geraint Thomas’ teammate Egan Bernal could follow. But Pinot accelerated again about 2 kilometers later to drop them for good.

Pinot moved to fourth place overall, 1 minute, 50 seconds behind Alaphilippe.

“The weather conditions and the stage were good for me, I had good sensations, I needed to make the most of it,” said Pinot. “I need to keep going up in the general classification, the most difficult stages are looming.”

While Pinot was escorted by his faithful Groupama-FDJ teammate David Gaudu in the final ascent toward Prat d’Albis, Alaphilippe was isolated without a single teammate to help him in the 12-kilometer climb and cracked, yet managed to salvage his yellow jersey.

Alaphilippe was so exhausted after his effort up the hill, where he grimaced through the rain, that he had to grip a roadside barrier afterward while he caught his breath.

“If I crack I hope he’ll carry the torch for the French,” Alaphilippe said about Pinot.

Thomas, who had already conceded time to Pinot at the Tourmalet, remained second in the general classification. He got dropped when Pinot took the lead from a reduced group of contenders but did not panic. He rode at his pace until he accelerated with 1.5 kilometers left to cut the overall gap on Alaphilippe from 2 minutes, 2 seconds to 1:35. Steven Kruijswijk of the Netherlands stood third overall, 1:47 off the pace.

Thomas said after the stage he could have tried to follow Pinot earlier but instead opted for a conservative approach because he did not want to bring back Alaphilippe to the front. Bernal was with Pinot and the Welshman would not take the risk of chasing down their common rival. Bernal, a Colombian with excellent climbing skills, remains involved in the fight for the yellow jersey, 2:02 behind Alaphilippe.

“I felt better than yesterday but I needed to try to pace it when it all kicked off,” Thomas said. “It’s a difficult one, tactics wise. I wanted to go, I had the legs to go but I wasn’t going to chase down Egan Bernal with Alaphilippe on my wheel.”

Coming right after the ascent of the Tourmalet, Stage 15 ran close to the ancient Cathar castles and was a punishing ride totaling more than 39 kilometers of climbing.

Alaphilippe was so exhausted after his effort up the hill, where he grimaced and dribbled through the rain, that he had to grip a roadside barrier afterward while he caught his breath.

“If I crack I hope he’ll carry the torch for the French,” Alaphilippe said about Pinot.

Yates, the Vuelta defending champion, was given a free reign by the peloton when he took part in an early breakaway as he was not a threat overall. He made his decisive move about 9 kilometers from the line.

“I’m very proud of that,” Yates said of his second victory at this Tour.

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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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce turns back the clock, wins another Diamond League

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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce continues to show she’s just as fast as before childbirth, winning a Diamond League 100m in 10.78 seconds in London on Sunday.

Fraser-Pryce, a 32-year-old, two-time Olympic champion, beat a field that included the two fastest women of 2018, Brit Dina Asher-Smith (10.92) and Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou (10.98).

It lacked the only woman ranked higher than Fraser-Pryce this season, Rio Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, who edged her countrywoman at the Jamaican Championships on June 21.

But Fraser-Pryce has now broken 10.79 three times this season, her first time doing so since 2013. She could become the oldest woman to win an Olympic or world 100m title in Doha in two months.

“10.78 is a fabulous time,” she said. “My aim for Doha is definitely to be on the podium. For me, it’s a long season from here, so I am hoping my experience will come into play.”

Full London results are here. The meet lacked U.S. stars who are preparing for this week’s USATF Outdoor Championships, where world champs spots are at stake. The Diamond League resumes Aug. 18 in Birmingham, Great Britain.

Also Sunday, Kenyan Hellen Obiri won an anticipated head-to-head with Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan in the 5000m. Obiri, the world champion, clocked 14:20.36, the world’s fastest time in two years. Hassan, who nine days ago broke the mile world record, took third in a European record 14:22.12.

Swede Daniel Ståhl won a discus that included the world’s top three this year and the reigning Olympic and world gold and silver medalists. Stahl launched a 68.56-meter throw to overtake Jamaican Fedrick Dacres.

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