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Three questions with Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue before U.S. Championships

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue broke through the U.S. ice dance field to win their first national title in 2018. This year, they come back to defend – but their resumes are so much stronger this year.

The Montreal-based team most recently won the Grand Prix Final after sweeping both their assignments earlier in the fall.

At their media teleconference ahead of nationals, they spoke candidly with reporters about how they’re preparing for the competition (“jovially,” said Donohue) and the purpose behind the tweaks to their programs audiences will see in Detroit.

The rhythm dance is Jan. 25 and the free dance is Jan. 26.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Their families are all-in on building the competitive atmosphere surrounding nationals.

Madison Hubbell: My extended family has very rarely been able to see me skate live. They were able to come to Stars on Ice at the same arena, Little Ceasars Arena, this past spring. I think my uncle, mainly, uncle and my cousin, are just obsessive sports fans. For them, to go to the Little Ceasars Arena, is like, it calls for a celebration. ‘You’re gonna skate in this big arena, and we’re gonna do it the way these other sports do it.’ They called the arena, everybody’s confirmed that it is possible for them to do a tailgate. They are arranging it and they’re also arranging it with Kaitlin Hawayek’s parents and Evan Bates’ parents.

Zach Donohue: It’s gonna be lit!

MH: It’s gonna be all of our families. We’re extending the invitation of course to the families of the other athletes who will be around that day. Hopefully we’ll get a lot of really excited family and friends coming into the arena with a lot of energy. They’ve never done this before. Unfortunately, we’ll be skating so it’s not like we can join, but it sounds really fun.

ZD: I’m just concerned that it’s gonna happen like, too nicely, and then I’ll miss one of the events. Is that acceptable? How do we feel?

MH: Maybe they’ll be like, ‘man, I’m really sorry guys, we missed you actually. We were having too much fun outside.’

ZD: ‘Sorry about that!’

2. Momentum might build up their confidence, but they still take competitions one step at a time.

ZD: I don’t know if momentum is the right word. It’s always nice to be able to look back and see your hard work come to bear fruit. I think for sure gives you a boost of confidence in your abilities. Honestly, if anything, it just motivates us for more. Once you’ve had a taste of achieving your dream, it’s kind of hard to shy away from that. I would say that it’s definitely motivating.

MH: We take it competition by competition. I agree there’s a momentum based on knowing that our equation is working, the things that we’re doing here in training are working to continue improving what we’re capable of. But it isn’t a momentum because it’s a different competition with a different panel [of judges] and different competitors every time. We’re not taking it as winning the last four competitions made us unbeatable at nationals. It’s a completely different story. But at least we know going home from Vancouver [the Grand Prix Final] that the thing we were doing in training were working. We didn’t have to change the formula.

3. Making changes to their programs helps them tell the story better, especially in their free dance.

ZD: We changed the music just to mess with you – just kidding!

MH: We don’t consider it too major, but we changed the order of elements. The one-foot section will go earlier in the program because we felt like with the story, it made more sense to finish the dance spin at the end of the program where it’s a very intimate moment between the two of us. We can be very close compared to the one-foot section where we’re separated. It felt a little incomplete to tell the story of the last moments where you’re with the love of your life and you have to let go of them. We changed those elements around in order to make more sense within the story.

MORE: Nathan Chen prepared to capture third national title

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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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