Teuns wins Tour de France Stage 6, Ciccone takes race lead

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CHAMPAGNEY, France (AP) — Two Tour de France rookies stole the show on the first mountain stage, with Dylan Teuns of Belgium winning Stage 6 and Giulio Ciccone of Italy taking the overall race lead on Thursday.

Geraint Thomas, the defending champion, also rode strongly, going some way to answer questions about his fitness after he crashed out of the Tour de Suisse in June. Thomas rode in fourth at the top of the terrible climb to the Planche des Belles Filles ski station in the woody Vosges mountains of eastern France.

But the severity of the ascent, with a final 24% incline and an unpaved section that kicked up clouds of dust, torpedoed other main contenders for overall victory in Paris on July 28. Some riders were so exhausted at the top that race workers had to help them stay upright on their bikes after they crossed the line.

One of the big losers of the day was French rider Romain Bardet, a podium finisher in 2016 and 2017, who cracked and rode in 1 minute, 9 seconds after Thomas. He suffered the added indignity of having his chain jump on the line, immobilizing him. Now 2:08 behind Thomas overall, Bardet will be hard-pressed to make up that deficit on even harder climbs to come in the Alps and Pyrenees.

Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 Tour champion from Italy who also won the stage to La Planche des Belles Filles that year, came undone this time. He lost 51 seconds to Thomas on the climb and is well down the overall rankings in 20th place, 1:07 behind Thomas.

Teuns and Ciccone, both racing their first Tour, were rewarded for their enterprise and endurance on the climb and for having been part of a breakaway of 14 riders that sped away from the pack early in the 160.5-kilometer (100-mile) trek from Mulhouse that took the Tour up six climbs before hitting the last and hardest one.

At the top of that final ascent, Teuns and Ciccone were the two survivors of their breakaway group, fighting head-to-head for the win.

Ciccone cracked first on the eye-poppingly steep incline, as Teuns cranked on ahead of him to the line.

“It was really hard. A man-to-man fight,” Teuns said. “I finished it off. It was amazing.”

But Ciccone got a delightful consolation prize, in the shape of the yellow jersey.

“It’s an incredible day. I can’t grasp what’s happening,” the Italian said.

Having raced in the Giro d’Italia in May, where he won a stage, the 24-year-old came to the Tour to bank some experience. The yellow jersey was never in his plans.

“It’s strange but super good,” he said.

The last three riders to hold the yellow jersey at the top of the Planche des Belles Filles all went on to win in Paris: Bradley Wiggins in 2012; Nibali in 2014; Chris Froome in 2017.

But Ciccone doesn’t expect to follow in their footsteps. His Trek-Segafredo team is built around Australian rider Richie Porte, who also got dropped by Thomas but limited the damage, riding in just 9 seconds after the Welshman.

Another sign that Thomas isn’t hampered by his crash in June was that he also finished ahead of Egan Bernal, his teammate at Ineos who could yet become one of his main challengers for the Tour title.

Overall, Thomas climbed to fifth overall, 49 seconds behind Ciccone and leapfrogging Bernal, in sixth and now 4 seconds behind Thomas.

“It was a decent day,” Thomas said.

The previous wearer of the iconic yellow jersey, French rider Julian Alaphilippe, did everything he could to keep it, battling up the ascent, through the dust.

But Alaphilippe fell just 6 seconds short, losing the race lead he first took on Stage 3.

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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