Geraint Thomas opens gaps on Tour de France rivals in team time trial

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Just two days into the Tour de France, Geraint Thomas is already putting daylight between himself and some of the riders dreaming of dethroning the reigning champion.

Thomas, who claimed his first Tour win last summer, answered questions surrounding his form and fitness in a dominant fashion during Sunday’s short team time trial around the streets of Brussels.

His Ineos team did not win the stage but the 33-year-old Welshman gained precious seconds on rivals, including French duo Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot, former Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali, climber Nairo Quintana, Adam Yates and Jakob Fuglsang.

Thomas arrived at the Tour on the back of a rather mundane season and no victory to his name.

Even worse, he crashed out of his final preparation race last month, and endured another setback, though minor, when he was caught in a pile-up near the finish of Saturday’s opening stage.

With the No. 1 bib on his back, Thomas, a former track specialist, showed no signs of weakness following his spill.

He took solid turns at the front and led his teammates across the finish line close to the Atomium, the iconic Brussels monument built for the 1958 World Fair.

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The only team riding faster than Ineos on Sunday was the Dutch outfit Jumbo-Visma, which covered the 17.1-mile course in 28 minutes, 58 seconds, keeping the yellow jersey on Mike Teunissen’s shoulders.

They were 20 seconds faster than Thomas and his teammates, with Deceuninck Quick-Step completing the podium, 21 seconds off the pace.

“Looking at GC (general classification), it’s a good performance,” said Thomas. “It was a positive day for sure.”

Teunissen’s teammate Steven Kruijswijk is now the best placed overall contender, who sits third overall with a 20-second lead over Thomas and Egan Bernal, the co-leader at Ineos this summer in the absence of four-time champion Chris Froome.

Even without Froome — the dominant Grand Tour rider in recent years and an expert in the race against the clock — Ineos was still able to replicate its result from last year’s team time trial.

Dylan van Baarle, who replaced Froome in the team, was up to the task and there was no weak link on the road.

“We took some time on some good GC riders today, so it was perfect for us,” Bernal said.

Before the race leaves Belgium on Monday, Thomas and Bernal gained 12 seconds on Pinot, 16 seconds on Nibali, and 21 seconds on Yates and Fuglsang.

They opened more significant gaps with Quintana (45 seconds) and Bardet, the day’s big loser who conceded 59 seconds.

After rolling down first from the start ramp near Brussels’ Royal Palace, Ineos riders stayed in the lead for two hours until Jumbo-Visma, the last team to set off, bettered their time in an impressive performance.

Putting on a well-choreographed display, the Dutch team’s riders covered the route at an average speed of 35.5 mph, close to the record of 57.8 set by Orica-GreenEdge when they won the 2013 team time trial on a similar distance.

“We went hard from the start. We heard we were the fastest … We were flying,” Teunissen said.

The first Dutch rider to wear the race leader’s jersey in 30 years, Teunissen was a surprise winner of Saturday’s opening leg.

Surrounded by teammates best-suited for the flat terrain, including former time trial world champion Tony Martin, Teunissen did not play second-fiddle in his aerodynamic skinsuit and helmet.

“Yesterday it was a dream come true, and it’s the case today again,” he said. “It’s not that I’m getting used to winning stages at the Tour de France but it’s two out of two now and it’s really, really nice.”

Teunissen now leads teammate Wout Van Aert by 10 seconds in the general classification.

Jumbo-Visma riders monopolize the five top spots, with Kruijswijk in third place.

After two days in Belgium, the peloton will enter France during Monday’s Stage 3 which leads riders from the Belgian town of Binche to Epernay in the Champagne region.

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Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled
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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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Novak Djokovic wins 10th Australian Open, ties Rafael Nadal for most men’s Slam titles

Novak Djokovic Australian Open
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic climbed into the Rod Laver Arena stands to celebrate his 10th Australian Open championship and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title Sunday and, after jumping and pumping his fists with his team, he collapsed onto his back, crying.

When he returned to the playing surface, Djokovic sat on his sideline bench, buried his face in a white towel and sobbed some more.

This trip to Australia was far more successful than that of a year ago, when he was deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. And Djokovic accomplished all he could have possibly wanted in his return: He resumed his winning ways at Melbourne Park and made it back to the top of tennis, declaring: “This probably is the, I would say, biggest victory of my life.”

Only briefly challenged in the final, Djokovic was simply better at the most crucial moments and beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5). As a bonus, Djokovic will vault from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he already has held for more weeks than any other man.

“I want to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played in my life, considering the circumstances. Not playing last year; coming back this year,” Djokovic said, wearing a zip-up white jacket with a “22” on his chest. “And I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable, to be in Melbourne, to be in Australia.”

The 35-year-old from Serbia stretched his unbeaten streak in Melbourne to 28 matches, the longest run there in the Open era, which dates to 1968. He adds trophy No. 10 to the seven from Wimbledon, three from the U.S. Open — where he also was absent last year because of no coronavirus shots — and two from the French Open, to match rival Rafael Nadal for the most by a man.

Only two women — Margaret Court, with 24, and Serena Williams, with 23 — are ahead of him.

This was also the 93rd ATP tour-level title for Djokovic, breaking a tie with Nadal for the fourth-most.

“I would like to thank you for pushing our sport so far,” Tsitsipas told Djokovic.

Djokovic was participating in his 33rd major final, Tsitsipas in his second — and the 24-year-old from Greece also lost the other, at the 2021 French Open, to Djokovic.

On a cool evening under a cloud-filled sky, and with a soundtrack of chants from supporters of both men prompting repeated pleas for quiet from the chair umpire, Djokovic was superior throughout, especially so in the two tiebreakers.

He took a 4-1 lead in the first, then reeled off the last three points. He led 5-0 in the closing tiebreaker and, when it finished, he pointed to his temple before screaming, a prelude to all of the tears.

“Very emotional for us. Very emotional for him,” said Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic. “It’s a great achievement. It was a really tough three weeks for him. He managed to overcome everything.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Tsitsipas was willing to engage in the kind of leg-wearying, lung-searing back-and-forths upon which Djokovic has built his superlative career. How did that work out? Of points lasting at least five strokes, Djokovic won 43, Tsitsipas 30.

Then again, on those rare occasions that Tsitsipas did charge the net, Djokovic often conjured up a passing shot that was too tough to handle.

It’s not as though Tsitsipas played all that poorly, other than a rash of early miscues that seemed to be more a product of tension than anything.

It’s that Djokovic was too unyielding. Too accurate with his strokes, making merely 22 unforced errors, 20 fewer than his foe. Too speedy and flexible chasing shots (other than on one second-set point, when, running to his left, Djokovic took a tumble).

“I did everything possible,” said Tsitsipas, who also would have moved to No. 1 with a victory, replacing Carlos Alcaraz, who sat out the Australian Open with a leg injury.

Perhaps. Yet Djokovic pushes and pushes and pushes some more, until it’s the opponent who is something less than perfect on one swing, either missing or providing an opening to pounce.

That’s what happened when Tsitsipas held his first break point — which was also a set point — while ahead 5-4 in the second and Djokovic serving at 30-40. Might this be a fulcrum? Might Djokovic relent? Might Tsitsipas surge?

Uh, no.

A 15-stroke point concluded with Djokovic smacking a cross-court forehand winner that felt like a statement. Two misses by Tsitsipas followed: A backhand long, a forehand wide. Those felt like capitulation. Even when Tsitsipas actually did break in the third, Djokovic broke right back.

There has been more than forehands and backhands on Djokovic’s mind over the past two weeks.

There was the not-so-small matter of last year’s legal saga — he has alternately acknowledged the whole thing served as a form of motivation but also said the other day, “I’m over it” — and curiosity about the sort of reception he would get when allowed to enter Australia because pandemic restrictions were eased.

He heard a ton of loud support, but also dealt with some persistent heckling while competing, including applause after faults Sunday.

There was the sore left hamstring that has been heavily bandaged for every match — until the final, that is, when only a single piece of beige athletic tape was visible.

And then there was the complicated matter of his father, Srdjan, being filmed with a group of people with Russian flags — one with an image of Vladimir Putin — after Djokovic’s quarterfinal. The tournament banned spectators from carrying flags of Russia or Belarus, saying they would cause disruption because of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Djokovic and his father said it was a misunderstanding; Srdjan thought he was with Serbian fans.

Still, Srdjan Djokovic did not attend his son’s semifinal or the final.

No matter any of it, Djokovic excelled as he so often has.

“He is the greatest,” Tsitsipas said, “that has ever held a tennis racket.”

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