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More mature Mariah Bell has more momentum this year ahead of world championships

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Mariah Bell took bronze at the U.S. Championships for the second time in January, where she said she was comforted by the presence of her boyfriend, parents, friends, and extended family.

“I have my parents and that’s so awesome that they can come,” she told NBCSports.com/figure-skating after the competition wrapped up in Detroit. “But it’s nice… I live with him. It’s very ‘every day.’ It feels not so huge.”

She then placed sixth at the Four Continents Championships in Anaheim in February – essentially a local competition for the California-based skater.

Her next stop is the world championships in Saitama, Japan from March 18-24, where she’ll look to improve upon a 12th place finish from Worlds in 2018.

Here’s what Bell said to NBCSports.com/figure-skating in Detroit about her nationals performances, how her maturity helped prepare her for the competition, and the easiest part about creating her costumes this season.

How do you think you measured up to the goals you set for this U.S. Championships?

I’ve had a little bit of time to look back. It’s a little frustrating to know, obviously, the difference between winning and not winning would’ve been Lutz, the fall, or the mistake in the short. But I’m really proud of how everything went.

It was tough to skate last. It’s very different for me. I’ve never done that before. When I drew that I was like, ‘Okay, gonna be different.’ But it’s also super cool to challenge yourself in those ways.

Did you hear the scores and the audience and all of that?

I didn’t hear anybody else except for obviously Alysa [Liu, the eventual champion]. I was listening to music, so I wasn’t really paying attention. I totally anticipated her getting a huge score. She’s doing two triple Axels! She’s so solid. I wasn’t surprised or anything. I was like, ‘This is exactly what I expected, it’s all good.’

Maybe in years past, I wouldn’t have been able to focus back in on myself, which I feel like I did. That’s the part that I think I’ve been working on a lot as I grow up in this sport.

Do you feel more mature in yourself and in your skating, if you compare nationals this year to nationals last year?

Absolutely. I think that comes from more time spent with my coach. I also had a much better season this year than I did last year at this time. I did well on my Grand Prixes. I did well at both my senior Bs.

Overall, I felt like I had a lot of great momentum coming into these championships. It can be easy to get overwhelmed but the bottom line was I just had to do what I’d been doing all season.

That’s the sort of maturity that I think I’ve gained this season. I probably wouldn’t have been able to just relax and be like, ‘Okay, I just have to do what I do every day, or what I’ve done this season, here.’ It’s a much different mindset that I approached this competition with.

Do you feel like you’re more of a top dog at the rink now?

I wouldn’t say top dog. I train with Nathan [Chen] occasionally, whenever he’s back [from Yale University]. Michal Brezina, he went to the [Grand Prix] Final, a really great skater from the Czech Republic. We have a top Japanese girl who unfortunately didn’t have a great nationals, but she’s a really great skater. We have a top Korean girl who just got second at her nationals.

I’m surrounded by a lot of great skating. I do have a little more experience which helps me. It’s really cool to train with them because they really push me. I’m not someone who’s like, ‘Oh, I’m tired,’ but I’ll be like, I’m starting to feel a little fatigued but they’re still going, so I can do a little bit more.

What was the creative process like with your costumes this season?

I started working with Lisa McKinnon. She did all of Ashley [Wagner]’s dresses. This is my first year working with her. She sort of does it all. You go in, you give her a piece of music. She’s very open to suggestions. I didn’t have any. I was like, whatever you think. I talked a little bit with [short program choreographer] Adam [Rippon] about maybe what he would kind of want, and also with [free skate choreographer] Shae-Lynn [Bourne].

I had sort of an idea, but she really took over. Every dress that she’s made that I’ve seen is stunning. I just feel really lucky to get to work with her. It’s nice she was in LA, so it wasn’t far for fittings. Literally, I got measured, fit, got the fittings done, they fit perfectly, and she did the crystals. And super easy!

Sometimes skaters go through two or three costumes in a season.

Yes! And that’s what happened to me last year. I was going through different programs and dresses! And this year it was like, organized and got taken care of fast.

MORE: Bradie Tennell on her improved artistry this season

As a reminder, you can watch the world 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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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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MORE: USA Gymnastics revamps Safe Sport policy amid abuse scandal

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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