Egan Bernal wins Tour de France, first Colombian, youngest since WWII

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PARIS — The skies over Paris were yellow, ignited by a glorious golden sunset.

The partying fans’ shirts were yellow, Colombians making themselves at home on the Champs-Elysees.

But the yellow that counted most was the iconic jersey that fit so snugly on the slim shoulders of Egan Bernal.

His crowning Sunday as the Tour de France’s youngest post-World War II champion, and its first from South America, heralded the birth of a new supernova in the cycling universe.

Winning a Tour for the ages at the unusually young age of 22 immediately prompted the question: How many more might he win?

Get this: He’s younger than the Tour’s greatest champions — five-time winners Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain — all were when they were first crowned. Pity those in the peloton who also hope to win future editions of cycling’s greatest race: They could be in for quite a wait.

“I am the most happy guy in the world. I just won the Tour de France, and, yeah, I can’t believe it,” Bernal said, looking bemused on the podium in the race winner’s jersey and silhouetted by the splendid sunset.

The slightly built Colombian with a killer instinct on the road proved to be the strongest of the 176 strong men who roared off from the start in Brussels, Belgium, on July 6 on their 3,366-kilometer (2,092-mile) odyssey that delivered the most absorbing, drama-packed Tour in decades and confirmation that the prodigy Bernal is the real deal.

Riding a yellow bike, and cheered by Colombian fans who were partying even before he rattled up the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysees, Bernal crossed the line with his teammate Geraint Thomas, the 2018 champion who this year finished second. Steven Kruijswijk completed what Tour organizers said was the tightest podium in the 116-year history of the race, with just 1 minute, 31 seconds separating first and third places after three weeks of racing.

The 21st and final stage was won in a sprint finish on the famous avenue by Australian Caleb Ewan, the dominant sprinter of his first Tour with three stage wins. Keeping with race tradition on its final day, the 155 riders who survived the Tour rode at a pedestrian pace and in a joyful atmosphere before hitting the Champs-Elysees. Bernal chatted with French rival Julian Alaphilippe and raised a glass of champagne as he rode.

At the finish, Bernal fell into the arms of his family.

“I cannot believe it. It’s just incredible. I am sorry. I have no words,” he said through a translator. “I still can’t understand what is happening to me.”

TOUR DE FRANCE: Full Standings

Tearful Colombians celebrated their new hero.

“When I saw that he won, I said, ‘I need to go with my music to support him,’” said clarinet-playing Colombian fan Sebastian Cortes, who traveled from Strasbourg in eastern France for the celebration.

But millions of French fans who had lined the roads through east, central and southern France, and up into the thinning air of the Pyrenees and Alps, were ruing a bitter-sweet Tour.

First, their hearts soared with fabulous racing from French riders Alaphilippe, who held the iconic yellow jersey for 14 days, and Thibaut Pinot, who won on the first of seven 2,000-meter-plus (6,500-feet) peaks scaled by the highest Tour in history.

But joy turned to sorrow when Alaphilippe and Pinot’s prospects of becoming France’s first winner since Hinault in 1985 were cruelly dashed just two days before the grand finale in Paris, on an epic Stage 19 where Mother Nature became a party-pooping guest. An almighty dump of torrential rain and hail severed the Tour route just as Bernal was succeeding in ripping the race lead off Alaphilippe, who’d clung to it like a kid with a favorite toy.

“Julian Alaphilippe made us dream,” said Celestin Simon, a Parisian who cheered his hero on the Champs-Elysees in a pointy hat of French red, white and blue. “Unfortunately, there’s no victory at the end.”

Alaphilippe, more than anyone, first ignited and then stoked what will long be remembered as a Tour of fireworks. With his goatee beard and can’t-catch-me attacks that rivals couldn’t match, Alaphilippe embodied “panache,” the old-school class so cherished by Tour fans.

Alaphilippe’s enterprise first put him in yellow in Champagne country on Stage 3 and then, after he lost the lead on Stage 6, got him the jersey back on Stage 8, which he held through the Pyrenees and into the Alps.

And it was there that Bernal, raised at altitude in Colombia and at home in thinner air, struck.

Bernal flew up the Tour’s highest climb, the dizzying Iseran pass at 2,770 meters (9,088-feet) above sea level, demolishing what remained of Alaphilippe’s lead on Stage 19 and building a sizeable one of his own =.

The watch was then stopped, with Bernal way ahead, when the hailstorm suddenly coated the route with ice, amid fears that riders on tires barely wider than their thumbs could skid off into the rock- and ravine-scarred Alpine décor.

Compounding the misery for France, Pinot abandoned the race in tears, hobbled by a left-thigh muscle tear.

And that was that. The Tour that had been careening to a rock ‘n’ roll finish instead had the plug pulled on it. Landslides also truncated the last Alpine Stage 20, which still proved too long for the by-now exhausted Alaphilippe, who slipped off the podium entirely, despite getting words of encouragement in a call the previous night from French President Emmanuel Macron.

Thomas used the last Alpine climb to secure the runner-up spot in Paris, giving the Ineos team a podium 1-2 with Bernal. Third-placed Kruijswijk, a Dutch Mr. Steady, pulled off the feat of being wholly unremarkable during the three weeks, while Alaphilippe, Pinot and Bernal and others rocked.

Quite remarkably, none of the top four riders won a stage. Alaphilippe, in fifth, won two.

“Honestly, I prefer having won two stages and 14 days in yellow than doing nothing and finishing third,” Alaphilippe said Sunday.

So instead of a red-white-and-blue celebration, Paris instead got painted in Colombian red, blue and yellow.

Lots and lots of yellow.

MORE: NBC Sports Launches 2019-20 Cycling Pass

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Emily Sweeney posts fastest time in qualifier for luge World Cup opener

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World championship bronze medalist Emily Sweeney placed first in the Nations Cup luge race Friday in Innsbruck, Austria, qualifying with ease for the first World Cup event of the season.

Twelve women, including fellow American Summer Britcher, were seeded directly into the World Cup race. Sweeney, Brittney Arndt and Ashley Farquharson all qualified from the Nations Cup race. Britcher has finished third in the overall World Cup standings for two straight years and is a contender in a wide-open year with seven-time defending champion Natalie Geisenberger taking a year off while pregnant.

MORE: Geisenberg will not race in 2019-20

In the men’s competition, Jonny Gustafson and Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer finished third and fifth in the Nations Cup race to advance. Tucker West claimed the second-to-last qualifying spot to get all three U.S. sliders in Sunday’s World Cup race.

Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman qualified for the doubles competition, ensuring all eight U.S. sliders will see the weekend races.

OlympicChannel.com will have live streaming this weekend (all times ET):

  • Women: Saturday, 4:15 a.m. and 5:40 a.m.
  • Doubles: Saturday, 7:05 a.m. and 8:25 a.m.
  • Men: Sunday, 4 a.m. and 5:35 a.m.
  • Team relay: Sunday, 7:40 a.m.

Highlights will be on television at the following times:

  • Saturday: Olympic Channel, 5:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, Olympic Channel, 5:30 p.m.
  • Sunday: NBCSN, 4:30 p.m.

Next weekend, the World Cup series heads to Lake Placid, N.Y.

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Russian track and field federation faces expulsion threat over new doping allegations

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MOSCOW (AP) — The governing body for track and field will consider expelling Russia from membership following new charges that senior officials faked medical records.

Russia has been suspended by World Athletics, formerly known as the IAAF, over widespread doping since 2015. There will be a review of whether vetted Russians should still be allowed to compete in international events as neutrals.

“We need to deal with renegade factions like this,” World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said Friday in Monaco.

World Athletics has frozen talks about lifting the long-running suspension and asked its Russia task force for recommendations on expelling the country’s track federation.

“It’s not symbolic,” said Coe, who said the charges and suspensions against Russian officials were so wide-ranging that they left the task force with almost no one left to talk to.

One route could be to close the Russian track federation and set up a new national governing body. Russia’s sports minister said he had referred the federation to a commission which oversees such matters.

Federation president Dmitry Shlyakhtin and four other senior officials are accused of obstructing the investigation into 2017 world championship silver medalist Danil Lysenko, who was accused last year of failing to make himself available for drug testing.

Lysenko allegedly provided fake medical documents as an alibi with help from the officials. He and his coach have also been suspended by the Athletics Integrity Unit pending full disciplinary hearings.

Also Friday, the three-time world high jump champion Mariya Lasitskene assailed Russian track leaders after they were charged Thursday, saying they have made a “doping nightmare” even worse.

Lasitskene called for swift and radical reforms, and the removal of officials appointed by Shlyakhtin.

Shlyakhtin took office shortly after the federation was suspended from international competition for widespread doping. The suspension remains in place four years later.

“The new team, whose task was to take us out of this doping nightmare, has turned out no better than the old one. And in some ways worse,” Lasitskene wrote on Instagram. “Shlyakhtin and his team must quit their posts immediately and never come back. And I will make sure this happens.”

Lasitskene has won two of her three world titles as a neutral athlete as a result of Russia’s suspension, which also caused her to miss the 2016 Olympics.

“Our track and field is in its death throes and we can’t procrastinate anymore,” she wrote. “We’ve lost four years already. Clean athletes are still defenseless and not sure they’ll be able to compete tomorrow.”

Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov expressed concern about the “emergency situation” and referred the federation to a ministry commission which could officially withdraw its government recognition.

“The future fate of the track and field federation will be examined,” Kolobkov said Friday in a video statement. “For us now, the main thing is that the training process isn’t interrupted. That means all of the athletes will get the help they need to continue the training and competition process.”

Earlier, the Kremlin said the charges against Shlyakhtin and others won’t derail the country’s preparations to compete in next year’s Olympics.

“Undoubtedly, this (situation) requires attention from the sports authorities, and I’m sure they’re dealing with it,” said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin. “But I don’t see a direct connection with Russia’s participation in the Olympics here.”

With Shlyakhtin suspended, the federation is set to select an interim president at a board meeting on Saturday.

Russia is also facing a World Anti-Doping Agency ruling next month on whether it manipulated data from a lab in Moscow.

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