Tour de France begins decisive mountain stages before Paris

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GAP, France (AP) — Picture the final showdown in “High Noon.” But at more than a mile above sea level.

With an Alpine trilogy of stages including six climbs in rarefied air, forecasts of stormy weather and only 39 seconds separating five riders determined to topple yellow jersey holder Julian Alaphilippe, the next three days at cycling’s marquee race have all the ingredients for an explosive and suspenseful conclusion.

In the role of former marshal Will Kane, Alaphilippe. With his good looks and heart-on-the-sleeve style of racing, he has become France’s national hero over the past two weeks, raising hopes that the host country will finally get its Tour champion after a 34-year wait.

After claiming the race lead by storm with a couple of well-time attacks followed up with a shock victory in the race’s individual time trial, Alaphilippe surprisingly hung onto the coveted tunic in the Pyrenees last week.

But the odds are firmly stacked against the Quick Step-Deceuninck rider in the Alps, a terrain with very long climbs that do not suit his punchy style. But like Marshal Kane, “Ala-Panache” — the nickname he earned this summer — is ready for a final battle.

“I can take punches in the mountains,” Alaphilippe said on Wednesday after Matteo Trentin won Stage 17, making the most of a long breakaway that Tour favorites were happy to let go. “I’m looking forward to the Alps.”

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Alaphilippe was not even born when Bernard Hinault won the last of his five Tour de France titles back in 1985. Thursday will mark the 13th day he will be wearing the yellow jersey, making him the first Frenchman to reach that tally at a single Tour since Hinault’s final win.

“One extra day in yellow, this is wonderful,” Alaphilippe said. “I will fight until the end. I’m gonna give it all.”

If Alaphilippe fails to defend his 1 minute, 35-second lead, another Frenchman is ready to take over in the person of Thibaut Pinot. The FDJ-Groupama leader has demonstrated in the Pyrenees that he was the best climber, taking time on all his rivals to make up for the time he lost in crosswinds earlier in the race.

Pinot is among the five riders who can believe they have a chance to win the Tour on Sunday on the Champs-Elysees, alongside defending champion Geraint Thomas, Steven Kruijswijk, Egan Bernal and Emanuel Buchmann.

Both Thomas and Kruijswijk, who are respectively second and third overall, were handed a blow on Wednesday, losing one teammate each on disciplinary grounds. Race organizers said Thomas’ teammate Luke Rowe and Tony Martin, who rides in support of Kruijswijk, were kicked out following an altercation. Despite the setback, the Ineos team has a double card to play with Bernal and Thomas.

Bernal is a pure climber from Colombia used to riding above 2,000 meters (6,560 feet), while Thomas is the most experienced of all contenders. He knows how to win a three-week race, and despite the minor crash he suffered on Tuesday, his morale is high.

“Looking forward to it now. Big three days and a big test,” Thomas said.

He added that Alaphilippe might be in for a tough time Thursday, with teams possibly riding hard to make him crack. Stage 18 to Valloire features two punishing and famed climbs, the Col d’Izoard and the Col du Galibier.

“He wasn’t great a couple of days ago and he’s been racing really well all race, so you’d think he’d be starting to get tired now,” Thomas said. “So, yeah, I guess teams will be thinking to try and make it hard all day.”

On paper, Stages 19 and 20 look even more difficult, with the Iseran mountain and two consecutive summit finishes. At 2,770 meters (9,090 feet), the Iseran is a Tour de France giant and one of the highest road passes in Europe where thin air makes things harder.

“Every day is going to be important,” Thomas said.

For Trentin and other already exhausted riders with no ambition in the general classification, the last stage that really mattered is now behind them. And the Italian rider made the most of it to post a third career stage win at the Tour.

With the peloton happy to the let an early breakaway develop at the start of the hilly, 200-kilometer trek to Gap, Trentin rode at the front for most of the stage and moved clear of the leading group about 14 kilometers from the finish at the bottom of the Col de la Sentinelle. He was first at the summit and went all out in the downhill leading to Gap. Kasper Asgreen was second, 37 seconds behind, with Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet completing the podium.

Already thinking about the Alps, Alaphilippe and his rivals crossed more than 20 minutes behind.

“Everybody is exhausted, it was the final day for saving strength,” Alaphilippe said. “The trilogy in the Alps will decide the winner.”

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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Danielle Perkins is first U.S. boxer to win world title in 3 years

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Danielle Perkins became the U.S.’ first world champion boxer in this Olympic cycle, taking the heavyweight crown in Russia on Sunday.

Perkins, a 37-year-old who played college basketball at George Mason and St. John’s, improved from bronze in 2018 to earn her first world title, blanking defending world champion Yang Xiaoli of China 5-0 in Sunday’s final.

Video of the bout is here.

Perkins was slated to fight Yang in the 2018 World semifinals but withdrew due to medical reasons, according to USA Boxing.

The heavyweight division is 81+kg, but the heaviest Olympic weight division is capped at 75kg.

The last American to earn a world title was Claressa Shields in 2016, before she repeated as Olympic champion in Rio and moved to the professional ranks.

The Olympic trials are in December in Louisiana, after which winners will fight internationally in early 2020 in bids to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

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MORE: IOC strips Olympic status from boxing body AIBA

Brigid Kosgei shatters marathon world record in Chicago

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Kenyan Brigid Kosgei shattered a 16-year-old world record in the women’s marathon by 81 seconds, winning the Chicago Marathon in 2:14:04 on Sunday.

Brit Paula Radcliffe had held the record of 2:15:25 set at the 2003 London Marathon. Kenyan Mary Keitany holds the female-only record of 2:17:01 from the 2017 London Marathon. Both Kosgei and Radcliffe, the only women to break 2:17, ran with men in their record races.

Radcliffe’s record was the longest-standing for the men’s or women’s marathon of the last 50 years.

Kosgei did it one day after Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to run a sub-two-hour marathon in a non-record-eligible event in Vienna. She won by a gaping 6 minutes, 47 seconds over Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh.

Kosgei, who won Chicago in 2018 and the London Marathon in April, came in highly favored. The 25-year-old tuned up with the fastest half-marathon ever by a woman (by 23 seconds) on Sept. 8 on a non-record-eligible course.

“2:10 is possible for a lady,” Kosgei said after Sunday’s record.

Jordan Hasay, the top U.S. woman in the field, stopped after feeling a sharp hamstring strain after two miles. Hasay, who was coached by Alberto Salazar before his ban in a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency case, is one of several women in contention for the three Olympic spots at the Feb. 29 trials in Atlanta.

Kenyan Lawrence Cherono won the men’s race by one second over Ethiopian Dejene Debela in 2:05:45.

The U.S.’ top marathoner, Galen Rupp, dropped out around mile 23 after straining a calf around the sixth mile. Rupp, who was also coached by Salazar, was racing for the first time since the 2018 Chicago Marathon and Achilles surgery.

Mo Farah, the defending champion and four-time Olympic track gold medalist, finished eighth in 2:09:58. He also dropped from the leaders before the halfway point.

American Daniel Romanchuk and Swiss Manuela Schar won the wheelchair races.

Romanchuk, 21, repeated as champion. He has also won Boston London and New York City in the last year. Schar distanced decorated American Tatyana McFadden by 4:14, though McFadden did qualify for the Tokyo Paralympics with her runner-up finish (as did Romanchuk).

The fall major marathon season concludes with the New York City Marathon on Nov. 3, featuring defending champions Mary Keitany and Lelisa Desisa and 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden.

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MORE: Chicago Marathon results