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World Championships pairs’ preview: Can Vanessa James, Morgan Cipres cement their undefeated season with a win?

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Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France are coming to the 2019 World Championships with plenty of momentum. They won their first Grand Prix Final title in December and became the first French team since 1932 to win gold at the European Championships in January. 1932 was also the last time a French pair won the world title.

They’re the favorites at the World Championships in Saitama, Japan from March 18-24. But they’ll still have to battle 2017 World Champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China as well as two-time world medalists Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia if they want to stand atop the podium.

Here is a closer look at the field:

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, France

Credentials: Grand Prix Final champions, European champions, fifth in PyeongChang, 2018 world bronze medalists

James and Cipres own the highest three free skate scores of the season and the two highest total scores of the season. Their free skate point gap over the Russians, Tarasova and Morozov, is around 5 points. They are the overwhelming favorites outside of the 2017 World Champions, Sui and Han of China. But unlike the other podium threat teams, they’ve never vied for a world title before, and the pressure to deliver could be a factor for James and Cipres.

Worth noting: The pair told NBCSports.com/figure-skating they would have retired had they won an Olympic medal, but now they want to keep going and take things one season at a time.

Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, China

Credentials: Olympic silver medalists, 2017 world champions plus two-time worlds silver medalists

Sui and Han’s first full competition of the season was last month’s Four Continents. Despite winning, they were not clean in the short program or the free skate.

Worth noting: Reports have also surfaced that neither Sui nor Han is 100 percent. Sui hasn’t made a full recovery from her foot injury, and was injured again during an exhibition in North Korea in February.

Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, Russia

Credentials: Two-time world medalists (bronze, 2017; silver, 2018), two-time European champions, fourth in PyeongChang plus won silver in the team event as Olympic Athletes from Russia

Two gold medals on the Grand Prix circuit, plus a bronze in the Grand Prix Final have set up Tarasova and Morozov well for the second half of the season. They had a messy free skate in the Final but improved by Russian nationals, which they won. They earned a silver at European championships after Tarasova downgraded her triple toes in both the short and the free.

Worth noting: They changed their short program after Russian nationals. The pair was previously skating to James Brown’s “I Got You” but now skate to music by Rachmaninov, the same program they used during Olympic season.

The American outlook:

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc are the lone U.S. representatives in the field. Their main task in Saitama is to finish inside the top 10, which would guarantee two pairs quota spots for the U.S. at the 2020 World Championships. The newly-crowned national champions told NBCSports.com/figure-skating that this has been their goal all along this season, and they feel ready to do so, despite Cain’s December concussion.

Honorable mention: The other Chinese team in the field has done well this season. Peng Cheng and Jin Yang were the 2019 Four Continents bronze medalists and won the silver medal at the Grand Prix Final.

Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro are also a team to watch, as they were silver medalists behind Sui and Han at Four Continents by just 0.06 points.

Two other teams in the field also competed at the Grand Prix Final: Italy’s Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise and Russia’s Natalya Zabiyako and Aleksandr Enbert.

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating ChampionshipsLadies’ preview | Pairs’ preview | Men’s Preview

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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Tour de France race of truth to decide champ; Peter Sagan’s run likely ends

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The stage is set to decide the Tour de France winner on Saturday.

After Soren Kragh Andersen of Denmark won Friday’s 19th stage of 21, where the overall leaders finished together, eyes turn to Saturday’s 22-mile individual time trial — otherwise known as the race of truth (6:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold).

A Slovenian is extremely likely to win a Tour title for the first time.

Primoz Roglic, a former world junior team champion ski jumper, has been in the yellow jersey for nearly two weeks. He leads countryman Tadej Pogacar by 57 seconds going into the last two stages. Sunday’s finisher is a ceremonial ride into Paris where the leaders are not expected to attack each other.

Miguel Angel Lopez of Colombia, who crashed directly into a road sign on the first stage, is in third, 1:27 behind Roglic. Lopez is 1:39 ahead of fourth-place Australian Richie Porte.

TOUR DE FRANCE: Standings | TV, Stream Schedule | Stage By Stage

Stage 20 Time Trial Notable Start Times
10:46 a.m. ET — Sepp Kuss (USA)
11:08 — Richie Porte (AUS)
11:10 — Miguel Angel Lopez (COL)
11:12 — Tadej Pogacar (SLO)
11:14 — Primoz Roglic (SLO)

Even with a finishing first-category climb, the time trial distance of 22 miles makes it difficult for Pogacar to make up 57 seconds on Roglic. Pogacar beat Roglic in the national time trial championship in June — by nine seconds on a 9.7-mile course.

“Tomorrow it’s all on me,” Roglic said, according to Cyclingnews.com. “The team has done an amazing job, I have the [yellow] jersey, but we have all worked for it.”

Pogacar, at 21, is bidding to become the youngest Tour de France podium finisher since 1909, according to ProCyclingStats.com. Last year, he became the youngest podium finisher in any Grand Tour since 1974 by placing third at the Vuelta a Espana won by Roglic.

“If I’m on a good day, it’s a course that suits me well,” Pogacar said of the time trial. “If someone told me I’d be in this position before the Tour. I would never have believed them.”

The Slovenians from different teams owned this Tour while defending champion Egan Bernal of Colombia and the formerly dominant Ineos Grenadiers struggled and eventually abandoned on Wednesday.

One competition that all but wrapped up Friday was for the green jersey going to the Tour’s top sprinter.

Sam Bennett is in line to become the second Irishman to win that title after Sean Kelly, who did so four times in the 1980s.

Bennett goes into the weekend with a 55-point lead over Slovakian Peter Sagan, who won the title in each of his last seven Tours that he has finished, a record total.

With a maximum 70 points available for one sprinter left, Bennett would clinch the title by finishing eighth on Sunday and picking up a handful of intermediate sprint points.

MORE: Slovenia’s president is all about the Tour de France

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2020 Tour de France standings

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2020 Tour de France standings for the yellow jersey, green jersey, white jersey and polka-dot jersey through stage 18 of 21 …

Overall (Yellow Jersey)
1. Primoz Roglic (SLO) — 83:29:41
2. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — +:57
3. Miguel Angel Lopez (COL) — +1:27
4. Richie Porte (AUS) — +3:06
5. Mikel Landa (ESP) — +3:28
6. Enric Mas (ESP) — +4:19
7. Adam Yates (GBR) — +5:55
8. Rigoberto Uran (COL) — +6:05
9. Tom Dumoulin (NED) — +7:24
10. Alejandro Valverde (ESP) — +12:12
13. Richard Carapaz (ECU) — +17:48
15. Sepp Kuss (USA) — +35:54
17. Nairo Quintana (COL) — +57:49
30. Thibaut Pinot (FRA) — +1:56:21
36. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA) — +2:11:36
DNF. Egan Bernal (COL)

Sprinters (Green Jersey)
1. Sam Bennett (IRL) — 319 points
2. Peter Sagan (SVK) — 264
3. Matteo Trentin (ITA) — 250
4. Bryan Coquard (FRA) — 173
5. Caleb Ewan (AUS) — 158

Climbers (Polka-Dot Jersey)
1. Richard Carapaz (ECU) — 74 points
2. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — 72
3. Primoz Roglic (SLO) — 67
4. Marc Hirschi (SUI) — 62
5. Miguel Angel Lopez (COL) — 51

Young Rider (White Jersey)
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — 83:30:38
2. Enric Mas (ESP) — +3:22
3. Valentin Madouas (FRA) — +1:35:35
4. Dani Martinez (COL) — +1:51:32
5. Lennard Kamna (GER) — +2:10:21

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