Elia Viviani wins Tour de France Stage 4

2 Comments

NANCY, France (AP) — Elia Viviani had left the Giro d’Italia utterly disappointed.

Two months later, the Italian rider left bitterness and his sprinting rivals in his wake to claim his first career stage win in the Tour de France after storming a bunch sprint on Tuesday with an impressive display of power and speed.

The 30-year-old track specialist, arguably the fastest man in the peloton this season, had left his home race empty-handed in May under controversial circumstances.

Viviani, who has now posted stage wins at all three Grand Tours, was stripped of a victory in Italy after the race jury ruled he had irregularly changed his line and blocked an opponent in the sprint.

There was no such hiccup on the finish line in the eastern city of Nancy, and Viviani was clearly the best.

The 2016 omnium Olympic champion was ideally set up by the Deceuninck-Quick Step leadout train in the finale and made the most of the slight uphill finish to prevail. Viviani edged Alexander Kristoff and Caleb Ewan, claiming the fourth stage of the three-week race.

“It means a lot. Probably I can’t believe it. It was a big goal of the year,” said Viviani, who dedicated his win to his fiancée and parents.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

The 213.5-kilometer (133-mile) flat route from Reims to Nancy did not pose any major difficulty and was a perfect opportunity for sprinters to get a stage win, a day after Viviani’s teammate Julian Alaphilippe seized the yellow jersey with a solo effort.

“My father and mother were on the finish line today, they were set to leave yesterday but finally decided to stay because the stage was for sprinters,” Viviani said.

Alaphilippe, the first Frenchman to wear yellow in five years, kept the overall lead, with no change at the top of the overall standings. Both men hugged warmly after their team produced a second straight stage win.

“I just need to thank the team, they were really unbelievable,” Viviani said.

The Italian speedster might soon be racing without his favorite teammates, however, amid reports he might join Cofidis next season as the French outfit seeks to replace its top sprinter.

Viviani said he has yet to make up his mind and that his Tour campaign will determine his future.

After Alaphilippe led the Deceuninck-Quick Step train to the front, Max Richeze and Michael Morkov set a very fast tempo to launch Viviani’s final acceleration. Kristoff opened up the sprint in the final stretch but could not hold off Viviani on the left side of the road.

Alaphilippe was cheered throughout the stage. After several dozen fans greeted him at his team hotel in the morning, supporters lining streets across the small villages of eastern France wildly cheered him on, shouting “Loulou, Loulou!” — the Frenchman’s nickname.

Alaphilippe enjoyed a day free of pressure, well protected in the main pack by teammates, and then played a role in the final sprint to launch Viviani’s final effort.

Defending champion Geraint Thomas and other main contenders enjoyed a calm day too, just making sure they rode at the front to avoid crashes or splits. Thomas and his Ineos teammate Egan Bernal remained seventh and sixth, respectively, in the overall standings.

“The team has been amazing. I haven’t had to do anything, just follow the wheels, and everyone has done their job perfectly. It’s been ideal,” Thomas said.

Under bright sunshine in Reims, three riders attacked from the off.

On long stretches of flat roads, Yoann Offredo, Frederik Backaert and Michael Schär built a lead that never exceeded 3 minutes, 40 seconds as the peloton kept them on a leash before sprinters’ teams organized the pursuit and sped up the pace.

The trio was eventually caught with 17 kilometers left, in the small Cote de Maron climb, leaving the spotlight on the fastest men of the peloton.

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

John McFall, Paralympic medalist, becomes first parastronaut in Europe

John McFall
Getty
0 Comments

The European Space Agency made history Wednesday by selecting an amputee who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident to be among its newest batch of astronauts — a leap toward its pioneering ambition to send someone with a physical disability into space.

John McFall, a 41-year-old Briton who lost his right leg when he was 19 and later won a Paralympic 100m bronze medal in 2008, called his selection at Europe’s answer to NASA “a real turning point and mark in history.”

“ESA has a commitment to send an astronaut with a physical disability into space … This is the first time that a space agency has endeavored to embark on a project like this. And it sends a really, really strong message to humanity,” he said.

The newly-minted parastronaut joins five career astronauts in the final selection unveiled during a Paris news conference — the conclusion of the agency’s first recruitment drive in over a decade aimed at bringing diversity to space travel.

McFall will follow a different path than his fellow astronauts because he will participate in a groundbreaking feasibility study exploring whether physical disability will impair space travel. It’s uncharted land, since no major Western space agency has ever put a parastronaut into space, according to the ESA.

Speaking with pride amid flashes of emotion, McFall said that he was uniquely suited to the mission because of the vigor of his mind and body.

“I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I lost my leg about twenty plus years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to be a Paralympic athlete and really explored myself emotionally … All those factors and hardships in life have given me confidence and strength — the ability to believe in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to,” he added.

“I never dreamt of being an astronaut. It was only when ESA announced that they were looking for a candidate with a physical disability to embark on this project that it really sparked my interest.”

The feasibility study, that will last two to three years, will examine the basic hurdles for a parastronaut including how a physical disability might impact mission training, and if modifications to spacesuits and aircraft are required, for example.

ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said it was still a “long road” for McFall but described the fresh recruitment as a long-held ambition.

Parker said it started with a question. “Maybe there are people out there that are almost superhuman in that they’ve already overcome challenges. And could they become astronauts?”

Parker also says that he “thinks” it may be the first time the word “parastronaut” has been used, but “I do not claim ownership.”

“We’re saying that John (McFall) could be the first parastronaut, that means someone who has been selected by the regular astronaut selection process but happens to have a disability that would normally have ruled him out,” he said.

It will be at least five years before McFall goes into space as an astronaut — if he is successful.

Across the Atlantic, Houston is taking note. Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to the American agency’s astronaut corps, told the AP that “we at NASA are watching ESA’s para-astronaut selection process with great interest.”

Huot acknowledged that “NASA’s selection criteria currently remains the same” but said the agency is looking forward to working with the “new astronauts in the future” from partners such as the ESA.

NASA stressed that it has a safety-conscious process for vetting future astronauts who might be put in life-threatening situations.

“For maximum crew safety, NASA’s current requirements call for each crew member to be free of medical conditions that could either impair the person’s ability to participate in, or be aggravated by, spaceflight, as determined by NASA physicians,” Huot added.

NASA said future “assistive technology” might change the game for “some candidates” to meet their stringent safety requirements.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Ilia Malinin in familiar position after Grand Prix Finland short program

Ilia Malinin
Getty
0 Comments

Ilia Malinin landed a quadruple Axel in his free skate to win his first two competitions this season. Less known was that the 17-year-old American had to come from behind to win each time.

An at least slightly injured Malinin looks up in the standings again after the short program of his third event, Grand Prix Finland. Malinin had erred landings on two of his three jumping passes in Friday’s short, where quad Axels are not allowed, then said he had a left foot problem, according to the International Skating Union.

“I’m a little bit injured, I’m playing it safe, protect it to make sure the injury doesn’t get worse,” he said, according to the ISU.

He tallied 85.57 points for second place, which is 3.39 fewer than leader Kevin Aymoz of France going into Saturday’s free skate.

Malinin, the world junior champion ranked No. 1 in the world in his first full senior season, merely needs to finish fourth or better (perhaps even fifth) to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final, which pits the top six per discipline in the world in a preview of March’s world championships.

Grand Prix Finland concludes with all of the free skates on Saturday.

GRAND PRIX FINLAND: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier Friday, world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium led the women’s short with 74.88 points, edging Mai Mihara of Japan by 1.3. Hendrickx and Mihara are in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. World champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, South Korea’s Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito already have spots in the Final.

The world’s top ice dance couple this season, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, improved on their world-leading rhythm dance score by tallying 87.80 points. They lead Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker by 6.87, with both couples in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini topped the pairs’ short program by 4.3 points over Americans Anastasiia Smirnova and Danil Siianytsia. The Italians rank fourth in the world this season behind three teams that aren’t in the Finland field but will be at the Grand Prix Final, including world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of the U.S.

Smirnova and Silanytsia are competing in their lone Grand Prix this season after withdrawing before Skate America, making them ineligible for Grand Prix Final qualification. Their short program score ranks fourth among American pairs this season, putting them in contention for one of three spots on the team for worlds, to be decided after January’s national championships.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!