Elia Viviani wins Tour de France Stage 4

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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.

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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.

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U.S. men off to best French Open start in 24 years

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The last time U.S. men started this well at the French Open, Sebastian Korda wasn’t alive and his dad had yet to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Eight American men are into the second round at Roland Garros, the largest contingent in the last 64 since 1996. No nation will have more. Astonishing, given U.S. men went a collective 1-9 at the 2019 French Open.

Back in 1996, nine American men won first-round matches. That group included Pete SamprasAndre AgassiJim Courier and Michael Chang (in Sampras’ deepest run in Paris, to the semifinals).

Clay has long been kryptonite for this generation of Americans — the last U.S. man to make a Roland Garros quarterfinal was Agassi in 2003.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

This group includes veterans like Jack Sock, who swept countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 on Monday. Sock, 28, was once ranked eighth in the world.

He then dropped out of the rankings entirely, missing time due to injury and going 10 months between tour-level match wins. He’s now at No. 310 and preparing to play No. 3 Dominic Thiem in the second round.

Then there’s 35-year-old John Isner, the big server who swept a French wild card in round one. Isner, the highest seeded U.S. man at No. 21, has posted some decent Roland Garros results, reaching the fourth round three times.

There are new faces, too. Taylor Fritz is seeded 27, aged 22 and in an open section of the draw to make his first Grand Slam fourth round.

On Monday, 20-year-old Korda became the youngest U.S. man to win a French Open main-draw match since an 18-year-old Andy Roddick beat Chang in 2001.

An American man is already guaranteed to reach the third round — Korda, the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda and brother of the world’s second-ranked female golfer Nelly Korda, next faces Isner.

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Novak Djokovic rolls at French Open; top women escape

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Novak Djokovic began what could be a march to his 18th Grand Slam title, sweeping Swede Mikael Ymer 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 in the French Open first round on Tuesday.

The top seed Djokovic lost just seven points in the first set. He gets Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis in the second round in a half of the draw that includes no other man with French Open semifinal experience.

Djokovic had plenty going for him into Roland Garros, seeking to repeat his 2016 run to the title. The chilly weather is similar to four years ago.

As is Djokovic’s form. His only loss in 2020 was when he was defaulted at the U.S. Open for hitting a ball in anger that struck a linesperson in the throat.

Djokovic got a break with the draw when No. 3 seed Dominic Thiem was put in No. 2 Rafael Nadal‘s half. The Serbian also won his clay-court tune-up event in Rome, where he received warnings in back-to-back matches for breaking a racket and uttering an obscenity.

“I don’t think that [the linesperson incident] will have any significant negative impact on how I feel on the tennis court,” Djokovic said before Roland Garros. “I mean, I won the tournament in Rome just a week later after what happened in New York.

“I really want to be my best version as a player, as a human being on the court, and win a tennis match. Because of the care that I have for that, I sometimes express my emotions in good way or maybe less good way.”

If Djokovic can lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires two Sundays from now, he will move within two of Roger Federer‘s career Slams record. Also notable: He would keep Nadal from tying Federer’s record and head into the Australian Open in January, his signature Slam, with a chance to match Nadal at 19.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier Tuesday, No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Sofia Kenin each needed three sets to reach the second round.

The Czech Pliskova rallied past Egyptian qualifier Mayar Sherif 6-7 (9), 6-2, 6-4. Pliskova, the highest-ranked player without a major title, next gets 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.

“Let’s not talk about my level [of play],” Pliskova said. “I think there is big room for improvement.”

Kenin, the American who won the Australian Open in February, outlasted Russian Liudmila Samsonova 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

“It doesn’t matter how you win — ugly, pretty, doesn’t matter,” Kenin said on Tennis Channel.

She gets Romanian Ana Bogdan in the second round. Only one other seed — No. 14 Elena Rybakina — is left in Kenin’s section en route to a possible quarterfinal.

American Jen Brady, who made a breakthrough run to the U.S. Open semifinals, was beaten by Danish qualifier Clara Tauson  6-4, 3-6, 9-7.

Sam Querrey nearly made it eight American men into the second round, serving for the match in the third set. But he succumbed to 13th-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. It’s still the best first-round showing for U.S. men since nine advanced in 1996.

The second round begins Wednesday, highlighted by Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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