Caleb Ewan posts first Tour de France stage win, Julian Alaphilippe keeps yellow

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TOULOUSE, France (AP) — A bit more than a year ago, Caleb Ewan was devastated to be left out of the Tour de France.

The Australian sprinter had to watch cycling’s biggest race on TV after finding out at the last minute that his Mitchelton-Scott team was placing all its bets on Adam Yates in the fight for the yellow jersey, and would leave Ewan at home.

A year later, Ewan earned his first Tour victory by edging a close sprint on Stage 11 in Toulouse on Wednesday.

“I was ready for the Tour three of four years ago, I always wanted to go straight to the top races,” said Ewan, whose daughter was born just before the race started. “I’ve been held back, I finally got my chance.”

Ewan switched teams to Lotto-Soudal this season to replace veteran German sprinter Andre Greipel, and the ambitious youngster was, at last, promoted to a team leader role this summer in France.

But the pressure was big on Ewan, a winner of 36 professional races — including stages at the Spanish Vuelta and Giro d’Italia.

After coming close in previous stages with three third-place finishes and a runner-up spot, he finally delivered by edging one of the peloton’s fastest men. The 25-year-old Australian beat fellow sprinter Dylan Groenewegen by a tire’s width and was awarded the victory after photo finish. Elia Viviani placed third ahead of three-time world champion Peter Sagan.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

Ewan perfectly timed his effort after Groenewegen launched his effort on the left side of the road. Ewan took the wheel of his Dutch rival and pipped him to the line.

“It was super hectic,” said Ewan, who has now completed wins at all three Grands Tours. “I ended up in Groenewegen’s wheel coming out of that corner. It’s a hard thing being with Dylan and I knew it was not going to be easy to beat him. I felt I should let him get a bit of a gap so I could sprint in his slipstream, and I could pass him quite quick. I’m happy that this time I was a few centimeters ahead of him.”

The win also made up for having to leave Australia just after the birth of his daughter Lily. He thanked his wife for letting him go and compete in France in such circumstances.

“She let me come here and leave my young baby in hospital,” Ewan said. “It’s the hardest thing I had to do, to come here to race and leave my daughter in hospital.”

With the race heading into the Pyrenees over the next four stages, the main favorites did not take any risks Wednesday and there were no significant changes in the overall standings. Frenchman Julian Alaphillipe kept the yellow jersey, 1 minute, 12 seconds ahead of defending champion Geraint Thomas. Thomas’ teammate Egan Bernal, the Ineos co-leader, remained in third place, a further four seconds behind.

“I’ve prepared myself for attacks to take place, whether from the favorites or other riders who want to gain time,” Alaphilippe said.

The coming days could be crucial in determining the next Tour champion. Following Thursday’s stage and its two first-category climbs, Thomas — an excellent time-trial specialist — will have a chance to gain time on his rivals in the only individual race against the clock this year.

Then it will be time for the grueling ascent of the Tourmalet —the first of three finishes over 2,000 meters this year — and a final Pyrenean stage totaling more than 39 kilometers of climbing.

“There are five big days to come, but we are up for it,” Thomas said. “Obviously, we’d love to be closer to Alaphilippe, but we are ahead the traditional GC (general classification) guys. It’s hard to see how Alaphilippe will go, but Egan and I are in quite a good place. By the second rest day we will know more about who are our rivals.”

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.

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Coco Gauff upsets 9th seed to start French Open

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Coco Gauff notched yet another impressive Grand Slam match win, taking out ninth seed Jo Konta in her French Open main draw debut on Sunday.

Gauff, a 16-year-old American, upset the Brit Konta, a 2019 French Open semifinalist, 6-3, 6-3 on the first day of play at Roland Garros despite 12 double faults. Konta had 41 unforced errors to 22 winners.

The clay-court Slam was postponed from May due to the coronavirus pandemic, is being held with damp temperatures in the 50s and has limited spectators to 1,000 per day.

Gauff, the 2018 French Open junior champion, gets Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan in the second round.

She’s coming off an impressive last year-plus, reaching the fourth round at the most recent Wimbledon and Australian Open. In between, she became the youngest WTA tournament champion since 2004. She recorded wins over Venus Williams and Naomi Osaka.

Gauff will bid over the next nine months to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team outright by being among the top four Americans in WTA rankings after the 2021 French Open. Therefore, her result at this French Open will not count toward Olympic qualifying.

She is currently ranked 51st overall and eighth among Americans.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier Sunday, Williams finished her 2020 with a third first-round loss in as many Grand Slam tournaments — 6-4, 6-4 to Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

With the WTA’s autumn Asian swing canceled, Williams said she won’t play before next season starts in Australia.

Williams, 40 years old and ranked 76th, will need a scintillating start to 2021 to make the U.S. Olympic team in singles. She is currently the 14th-highest-ranked American. If she doesn’t make it in singles, Williams (or Gauff) could be chosen as a doubles-only player for the Tokyo Games.

Top seed Simona Halep took the last 10 games of her 6-4, 6-0 win over Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo. Halep, who is on a 15-match win streak dating to February, could play Gauff in the quarterfinals.

On the men’s side, Stan Wawrinka swept Andy Murray 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in a battle of three-time major champions and a rematch of their life-changing 2017 semifinal in Paris.

“I need to have a long, hard think about it,” Murray said. “I don’t feel like the conditions are an excuse for it.”

It marked Murray’s first match on clay since that semi, won by Wawrinka in five sets. After that match three years ago, Wawrinka underwent two knee surgeries and Murray had two hip surgeries. Neither has made a Grand Slam semifinal since, and Murray nearly retired due to hip problems.

U.S. men went 3-0 on Sunday after winning one match total at the 2019 French Open.

The most notable victor: Sebastian Korda, the 20-year-old son of Czech 1998 Australian Open winner Petr Korda and brother of Nelly Korda, the world’s second-ranked female golfer.

Korda beat Italian veteran Andreas Seppi 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to become the youngest U.S. man to win a French Open main-draw match since 18-year-old Andy Roddick defeated Michael Chang in 2001.

Korda, after his first tour-level win, gets John Isner in the second round.

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal, each trying to tie Grand Slam singles titles records, play first-round matches on Monday.

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

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Julian Alaphilippe wins world road race title with late attack

Julian Alaphilippe
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Julian Alaphilippe became the first Frenchman to win a road cycling world title in 23 years, attacking late and holding on to prevail by 24 seconds in Imola, Italy, on Sunday.

Alaphilippe, who wore the Tour de France yellow jersey for 16 stages between the last two years, went clear from a star-filled group at the top of the last climb with about eight miles left of a 160-mile day.

“It was a dream of my career, you know,” said Alaphilippe, whose best previous worlds finish was eighth. “I came here with, for sure, a lot of ambition. It’s just a dream day for me.”

Belgian Wout van Aert took silver, followed by Swiss Marc Hirschi in a five-man bunch sprint for the last two medals. Van Aert also earned silver in the time trial on Friday.

Slovenian Primoz Roglic, who was second in the Tour de France, finished sixth in the same time as the silver and bronze medalists after more than six and a half hours of racing.

The top American was Sepp Kuss in 52nd place, 12:35 behind.

Full results are here.

The last Frenchmen to win world titles were Laurent Brochard (road race) and Laurent Jalabert (time trial) in 1997.

Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, who won the Tour de France last Sunday, attacked with 26 miles left. He led by as much as 25 seconds before being reeled back in with about 13 miles to go.

The cycling season continues with the last two Grand Tours, each starting later than normal due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Giro d’Italia begins Oct. 3, and the Vuelta a Espana starts Oct. 20, before the Giro finishes.

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MORE: A more equal future for women’s cycling? Lizzie Deignan has high hopes