Primoz Roglic, Tadej Pogacar
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Slovenia is dominating the Tour de France, and its president is loving it

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About 20 minutes after Slovenians Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič finished in first and second place in the Tour de France’s 15th stage on Sunday, Slovenian president Borut Pahor tweeted an image of two autographed Roglič jerseys captioned with a prevailing sentiment.

The Tour de France is becoming the Tour de Slovenia.

As the world’s greatest bike race enters its final weekend, Roglič and Pogačar remain first and second in the overall standings. They’ve survived the toughest mountain stages.

Roglič, a pre-race co-favorite, will very likely become the first Slovenian to win the Tour. Pogačar, who rides for a different team, will likely join him on one of the two other podium spots in Paris on Sunday.

It’s an incredible story. Slovenia’s population is that of New Mexico (about two million people). It’s smaller than New Hampshire. And now it has the top two athletes in one of the most storied sporting events in the world.

“As Primoz was joking in France a couple of days ago,” Slovenian journalist Uroš Gramc said, “it is only two million of us, but we are all super athletes.”

TOUR DE FRANCE: Standings | TV, Stream Schedule | Stage By Stage

That includes Pahor, a 56-year-old playfully dubbed “Europe’s Instagram President.”

Pahor, a former prime minister, has for the last eight years occupied the more ceremonial presidential role. He has every bit the panache of a Grand Tour patron.

His Instagram includes photos with Naomi Campbell and Bono and of his head photoshopped on a flying Superman. Slovenian media and Politico reported on a 2015 Pahor calendar where Mr. April was the president ironing in blue overalls.

Pahor, nicknamed “Barbie” and a fashion model before his political career took off, is most proud these days of Roglič and Pogačar.

“He watches the stages of the Tour of France as often as he can, considering his work obligations,” his office emailed this week. “He also follows the two grand cycling competitions of Spain and Italy, i.e. La Vuelta and Giro di Italia. As well as, of course, the Tour of Slovenia.”

Pahor has long followed the ascent of the 30-year-old Roglič, a former world junior champion ski jumper who didn’t own a bike when he started racing in his early 20s.

In 2017, Roglič (nicknamed “Rogla”) became the first Slovenian to win a stage of the Tour de France. A Pahor tweet the next morning included a stick-figure drawing on presidential stationery summarizing the victory.

In 2018, Pahor and Roglič met for the first time.

“They planted a maple tree that is still growing in the park of Villa Podrožnik,” according to the president’s office. “The maple is a symbol of strength and endurance, which Primož personifies. The President has promised that if Primož wins The Tour, they would both plant a linden tree (the symbol of Slovenia).”

The president has also met the 21-year-old Pogačar while receiving a number of Slovenian cyclists at the presidential palace in June 2019. Pogačar can become the youngest Tour de France podium finisher since 1909, according to ProCyclingStats.com.

Slovenia has a rich recent history of sports achievements — from Tina Maze‘s two Olympic Alpine skiing titles to just about anything Luka Doncic does these days. Doncic also tweeted congrats to Roglič and Pogačar as the nation catches Tour fever.

“Before my departure to France people were watching Tour in bars, that never happened before,” Gramc said.

Slovenian cycling has been working toward this moment. They first had professionals in the 1980s, before the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Each generation took a step, from merely finishing the Tour to winning stages in Grand Tours to Roglič and Pogačar finishing first and third at the 2019 Vuelta. Now, Slovenia has directors of World Tour teams, Gramc said.

“So we’ve grown a lot, maybe the time has come,” Gramc said. “But there definitely is the coincidence that two cyclists are on the top of the [Tour de France], this is just incredible, no one expected. We have to respect that and enjoy it. Maybe it will never happen again although Roglic and Pogacar are far from ending their careers.”

Pahor is an avid endurance athlete. He regularly completes the Ljubljana half marathon in under two hours, has raced duathlons and triathlons and posts photos of himself riding in Jumbo-Visma jerseys (Roglič’s team) on Instagram.

On Wednesday, Roglič and Pogačar finished second and third in the toughest stage of the Tour, keeping Slovenia in first and second overall and bringing the dream closer.

“It’s not over yet,” Pahor tweeted, according to a translation, “but closer to heaven every day.”

MORE: USA Cycling names Olympic team finalists

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Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal rekindle record bids at French Open

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Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will play on the same day at the French Open through the quarterfinals, assuming each advances that far and the weather doesn’t wreak havoc. Each time they walk on the crushed red clay, the legends move closer to tying all-time records.

Williams, in her 10th bid since returning from childbirth to tie Margaret Court‘s 24 Grand Slam singles titles, battled and then rolled past 102nd-ranked countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0.

“I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena,” she said of the difference between a 74-minute first set and a 27-minute second set. “I love the clay, and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding.”

Nadal, in his second major since moving within one of Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Slam titles, swept 83rd-ranked Belarusian Egor Gerasimov 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

“Six months without playing a single tennis match is not easy,” said Nadal, who skipped the U.S. Open and then lost his third match at his comeback tournament in Rome. “I had to stop playing tennis for more than two months, so situation is difficult.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Their pursuits are very different.

Williams is already the greatest player in history by many measures, especially considering most of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and some at the Australian Open without the world’s best players.

Williams has lost all four of her major finals since her life-threatening childbirth. But she is not the favorite in Paris, despite the absence of 2019 champion Ash Barty of Australia and recent U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka. Williams hasn’t made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros in four years and just went 16 months between competitive matches on clay.

She’s also battling an Achilles injury that affected her during a U.S. Open semifinal run three weeks ago. She’s spent most of her preparation time in France rehabbing.

“A ton of prayer,” she said, noting coming early to a post-match press conference to maximize her subsequent time handling the Achilles. “I’m doing so much for it.”

None of Williams’ potential first three opponents have ever beaten her. Next up: Bulgarian and fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a rematch of their three-set U.S. Open quarterfinal three weeks ago.

Like Williams, Nadal next plays on Wednesday. He gets Mackenzie McDonald, one of six American men to so far reach round two, the most since 1998.

For more than a decade, followers have debated the greatest male player in history between Nadal and Federer (and now Novak Djokovic). But not until winning the 2019 U.S. Open did Nadal move within one Slam of Federer’s total.

Now, Nadal can tie Federer and pass the Swiss if he wins the next two French Opens (and Federer doesn’t win the next Australian Open).

Nadal is going for his 13th crown in Paris, as usual downplaying his favorite status. This time, he’s noting the cool, slow, autumnal conditions and a new brand of tennis ball that is disadvantageous.

“Conditions here probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros,” Nadal said last week. “The conditions are a little bit extreme to play an outdoor tournament.”

Federer is not playing after two knee operations. Nadal, who at 34 is five years younger than Federer, has the opportunity in the coming matches and months to tip the scales in his favor. And help deny Djokovic, who is 33 with 17 Slams.

Nadal is not one to engage in that GOAT debate. Turns out, neither is Williams.

“You can’t compare two people that are equally great,” she said of Nadal and Federer. “I don’t understand why people want to pit who’s this, who’s that? They both have spectacular careers that 99 percent of people can only dream of and they both deserve.”

Earlier Monday, newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem rolled 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, next gets American Jack Sock, a former top-10 player now ranked No. 310.

Sock took out countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 for his first main draw win at the French Open in four years.

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

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World silver medalist opts out of figure skating Grand Prix

Elizabet Tursynbaeva
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Elizabet Tursynbayeva, the 2019 World silver medalist, said she will not compete in figure skating’s upcoming Grand Prix Series, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee.

Tursynbayeva noted in stating her decision that world ranking points will not be awarded in the series, which starts with Skate America from Oct. 23-25.

Fields for the six Grand Prix events, held on consecutive weekends through November, have not been released.

Skaters will be restricted to one Grand Prix start — halved from the usual two — and to the event in their home nations or closest to their training locations.

Tursynbayeva trains in Russia, one of six nations to host Grand Prix events.

Previously, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu announced he would not compete on the Grand Prix due to coronavirus pandemic-related travel risks.

Russian Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova, who announced an indefinite break from competition last December, is also not expected to compete. She is hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show but has not announced her future competition plans.

Tursynbayeva took silver behind Zagitova at the most recent world championships in 2019, a surprise given her 12th-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics. Tursynbayeva withdrew before her 2019 Grand Prix events, reportedly after suffering an injury.

Last season’s top skaters were all first-year seniors — Russians Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. The world championships were not held due to the pandemic.

Two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

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