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Mikaela Shiffrin opens World Cup season with nerves settling, history calling

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Mikaela Shiffrin knows that last season was incredibly successful — Olympic gold and silver medals, a repeat World Cup overall title and fifth slalom globe with a personal-best 12 wins on the circuit.

She also knows that most friends and family asked about something else — her fourth-place finish in the PyeongChang Olympic slalom.

“They say, what happened in the slalom?” she said in a preseason interview with Austrian TV. “And there’s not really one answer. And a lot of the answers I have will just sound like I’m complaining or that they’re excuses. So I don’t like to talk about it too much because I like to focus more on the incredible success that I did have in the giant slalom and the super combined as well, but for sure the slalom was a disappointing thing for me. To be so close to a medal, coming in fourth place, it’s kind of like a little burn.”

Shiffrin begins the post-Olympic season with the traditional opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Saturday.

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Four years ago, she began the PyeongChang Olympic cycle with her first win in a discipline other than slalom in Soelden (a tie with Anna Veith). She would end the quadrennial with two medals in South Korea in events other than slalom.

In between, Shiffrin suffered the first significant injury of her career, began racing speed events (even won a downhill) and spoke about nerves that caused her to throw up before races (including the PyeongChang slalom).

She began Skyping and texting a sports psychologist, who suggested writing the words “I am” on her lime-green gloves. Shiffrin had read the poem “Invictus.” I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

“I’m more excited for this season, going into Soelden, than I have been in the past,” she said last week. “The last couple of years, I felt a little bit like someone has a choke hold on my neck, and the closer we get to the race, the more I feel like they’re choking me. This year, I feel a lot more comfortable with my skiing or just kind of comfortable with this whole process.”

This season, Shiffrin can join the farewelling Lindsey Vonn as the only women to win three straight World Cup overall titles in the last 25 years.

She can pass childhood idol Marlies Schild of Austria for the World Cup slalom wins record — Shiffrin has 32 (plus three parallel slalom wins that don’t count for this stat); the retired Schild 35.

She is favored to tick off both boxes. But Shiffrin only speaks about the numbers when they’re brought up by reporters.

“To be honest, I don’t know how many slalom wins that I have now,” she told Austrian TV. “It’s something in the 30s, I guess, and I have a total of 40-something wins. I don’t really count, so I don’t really know where I am in terms of those records. For me, it’s the best way to think about it because if I start thinking about those records, it’s going to be too much pressure.”

The goals this season include the usuals. A priority on defending the slalom title. Striving for a first giant slalom season title. Dabbling in speed races as she bids for another overall globe. (Shiffrin did something out of character this offseason, spending vacation time in Martinique with a top GS rival, Frenchwoman Tessa Worley, while on a trip with her boyfriend, French racer Mathieu Faivre, and other members of that nation’s team.)

Shiffrin also voiced a new goal, long-term, that would put her in exclusive company.

“Some day I will be able to have wins in every discipline,” Shiffrin said (she has them all except super-G), “and hopefully I will be able to win in every event in one season.”

Not even Vonn has done the latter. Shiffrin would be the fourth after Petra KronbergerJanica Kostelic and Tina Maze. Now that would really get the friends and family talking.

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MORE: Vonn explains why it’s her final season

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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MORE: Olympic champions, world-record holder to miss USATF Outdoor Champs