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Mikaela Shiffrin clinches third-straight World Cup overall title

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Mikaela Shiffrin clinched the World Cup overall title for the third straight year in “strange” circumstances after snowstorms prevented the women’s super-G race in Sochi from going ahead on Saturday.

The 23-year-old American skier — who had opted not to race this weekend and is training in Italy — has a 719-point lead over second-placed Petra Vlhova with a maximum of 700 points now remaining this season.

“It’s quite strange because I am sitting here right now on my bed,” Shiffrin said in a video posted to Twitter. “I could go jump around and do a little happy dance and that. I feel like nobody really needs to see that. It’s just, it’s pretty crazy.”

Shiffrin has dominated the season with a career-high 14 wins from the 29 races this World Cup season, branching out from her usual technical specialty to take three World Cup wins in the super-G. On top of that, Shiffrin added world championship gold medals in the slalom and super-G last month to emphasize a bright future for the U.S. in women’s skiing despite the retirement of Lindsey Vonn.

“This year it’s even something more special because a fair portion of my wins have come in super-G,” Shiffrin said. “I always felt like I wanted to be able to earn it in all events. I’m working on getting to the point where I can earn it in slalom, (giant slalom), super-G and downhill, but I felt like this season was a really big step.”

Shiffrin was already assured of winning the title in Sochi since neither she nor technical race specialist Vlhova, who was Shiffrin’s only remaining title rival, are competing here.

Shiffrin has suggested the high travel costs for Sochi discouraged her. Instead, she’s training in Italy ahead of next week’s races at the Czech resort of Spindleruv Mlyn.

Snowstorms and strong winds have played havoc with the first World Cup events in Sochi since the 2014 Winter Olympics, and the super-G could still be at risk in its Sunday slot. Heavy snowfall continued Saturday afternoon.

Saturday was originally meant for a downhill race, but that was canceled after it proved impossible to hold any of the three planned training sessions. When that opened up a slot in the calendar, organizers tried to add a second super-G rescheduled from St. Anton in January, but the weather made that impossible.

Governing body FIS has said the downhill and extra super-G “will definitely not be rescheduled.”

Organizers now face a rush to prepare a course for Sunday at the Rosa Khutor resort.

“Since the early morning hundreds of specialists and their equipment have been working on the course to ready it for tomorrow’s race,” the Russian Alpine Ski Federation, which organizes the event, said in a statement. “Weather at the resort is gradually improving and the forecast for Sunday means we’re optimistic about the chances of holding a race.”

Having too much snow, rather than not enough, is a novel problem for elite-level racing in Sochi. Ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, organizers feared warm temperatures so stockpiled the previous year’s snow under blankets and brought in equipment from around the world to make artificial snow.

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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