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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Kelly Slater has an Olympic decision to make

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Surfing icon Kelly Slater is in great position to qualify for his sport’s Olympic debut in 2020, but he’s undecided about making a required event appearance this summer to stay eligible.

The top two U.S. male surfers in this season’s World Surf League final standings are in line to qualify for the Olympics.

Slater, a 47-year-old, 11-time world champion, is ranked third among Americans through six of 11 events, but the No. 2, two-time world champion John John Florence, is likely out for the rest of the season after an ACL tear.

If Slater keeps up his current pace of results, he will pass Florence’s point total by the end of the season in December.

“It appears as though I have to make a decision [on the Olympics] sooner than that,” Slater said after being eliminated from South Africa’s J-Bay Open in ninth place on Wednesday. “I’ve really got to figure out all the factors around that and make a decision in the next few weeks.”

Slater’s concern is the ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan, in September, an event that top Olympic hopefuls on the WSL tour are required to attend, barring illness or injury.

“I think I have to surf that event, and if I don’t, it may disqualify me,” he said (the International Surfing Association, the sport’s governing body, later confirmed it would disqualify him). “But I’m not sure if I want to go to Japan and compete right now.”

The ISA Games take place in the week between the next two WSL events, the latter hosted by Slater’s Surf Ranch wave pool in California.

“I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the Olympics right now, anyways,” said Slater, who last year said he was “50-50” on the Olympics when noting his differing thoughts on the qualification process and venue. “The point is, I’m not really focusing on it at this point. I’m trying to get myself back in the flow of the tour.”

Slater missed 13 tour stops between the 2017 and 2018 seasons after breaking a foot and having multiple surgeries.

He finished fifth, third, ninth, ninth and ninth in his five most recent events to get into Olympic qualifying position. He expected more after placing third in the two contests he entered healthy last season. Slater said he competed at J-Bay after straining his back “really bad” on Sunday, keeping him from surfing the three days before the contest.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, at 48, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, via the OlyMADMen.

“Right now in my head the focus is more on this tour than it is on the Olympics, but we’ll see,” he said. “I was starting this year with a lot of pressure on myself to try and make the Olympic team and think, maybe I’ll retire there next year and that will be the end for me. It put so much pressure on the start of the year for me that I didn’t feel like I could freely compete. It was putting too many things in my head. I needed to let that take a backseat and not worry about it. I’m just not really thinking about it a lot.”

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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China on brink of sweeping every gold medal at diving worlds

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Shi Tingmao joined Guo Jingjing as the only women to win three straight world titles in an individual diving event, giving China 11 gold medals in 11 events with two finals left in Gwangju, South Korea.

Shi, who swept the individual and synchronized springboard titles in Rio, claimed the 3m world title on Friday by 18.25 points with 391 total. Countrywoman Wang Han took silver, 5.8 points ahead of Australian Maddison Keeney.

Americans Sarah Bacon and Brooke Schultz missed the 12-woman final, placing 14th and 29th.

China, which has dominated the sport for two decades, is looking to sweep the golds at an Olympics or worlds for the second time after winning all 10 events in 2011. This year’s feat could be more impressive, should China win the last two events Saturday — a mixed-gender springboard and the men’s platform.

That’s because three mixed-gender events were added to the world program (but not the Olympic program) since 2011. And this year, China has not only won every gold but also taken every silver in the three individual Olympic program events thus far.

China is in strong position to go one-two in the men’s platform. Yang Jian and Yang Hao were nearly 70 points clear of the field in Friday’s semifinals.

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MORE: Diving Worlds TV Schedule