Tadej Pogacar routs rivals in Tour de France time trial

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LAVAL, France — Tadej Pogacar waited until the penultimate stage to take control of the Tour de France last year.

The young Slovenian rider did it after only five stages this summer, with a stunning display in Wednesday’s time trial that won’t be forgotten by his rivals.

In the first big battle between the main contenders — a 16.9-mile test against the clock coming early in the race — Pogacar reigned supreme, powering to victory to assert himself as the odds-on favorite at the showcase event.

“Today was a really good day for me. I didn’t do any mistakes,” Pogacar said.

The 22-year-old UAE Team Emirates leader did not seize the yellow jersey but gained time over his main rivals.

Just look at the damage: Pogacar was 44 seconds faster than last year’s runner-up, Primoz Roglic, while 2018 champion Geraint Thomas dropped 1 minute, 18 seconds. Richard Carapaz, a former Giro champion with big ambitions at the Tour this year, was 1:44 off the pace.

TOUR DE FRANCE: Standings | TV, Live Stream Schedule

World champion Julian Alaphilippe was among the day’s losers, 1:11 off Pogacar’s pace.

The Tour is a race of attrition and remains wide open. But the mountain stages in the Alps and the Pyrenees will be crucial, and Pogacar proved last year — when he became the second-youngest winner in the race history — that he can compete with the best climbers.

In addition, he has a stronger team this year and the Tour is less mountainous. More importantly, another long time trial will be on the program on the eve of the finish on the Champs Elysees.

Pogacar lagged 39 seconds behind leader Mathieu van der Poel at the start of Stage 5 in the western Mayenne region on Wednesday and erased a big chunk of the deficit to move into second place in the general classification.

Van der Poel has limited abilities in high mountains and is not expected to remain in the mix once the race reaches the Alps later this week.

“I won’t keep (the yellow jersey) in the mountains, but I like Tadej, he is a very nice guy and it’s really amazing what he does,” said Van der Poel.

Pogacar had no rival on the technical loop from Changé to Laval. Not even the best specialists in the discipline could provide a challenge.

Pogacar unleashed his power on the long stretches of flat roads and did not lose his tempo on the hills scattered along the course. Riding in an aerodynamic position, Pogacar perfectly negotiated the sharp curves of the finale and covered the route in 32 minutes, at an average speed of 32 mph.

Pogacar snatched the yellow jersey in a high-drama time trial on the eve of the finish in Paris last year. He became the first rider Wednesday to win two consecutive time trials at the Tour since Bradley Wiggins in 2012.

Van der Poel fought hard in the closing stages and produced his best time trial ever to keep the coveted yellow jersey, crossing the line exhausted with his mouth wide open.

“I surprised myself today,” said Van der Poel, who rides for the Alpecin-Fenix team. “I’m really proud of this performance. When I said I was going to lose the jersey today it was not a lie, it’s not my specialty.”

Pogacar was 19 seconds faster than time trial specialist Stefan Kung. Jonas Vingegaard was third, 27 seconds behind.

Overall, Pogacar lags eight seconds behind Van der Poel.

Roglic, who was Pogacar’s main rival last year, said he was proud of his performance following his heavy crash two days earlier.

“It’s hard, definitely. All the time trials are always very painful, let’s say it like that,” Roglic said. “But I just missed some power. I really squeezed totally everything out of myself.”

Thomas was also recovering from a crash and said he did the best he could.

“Obviously, I didn’t feel 100% but I don’t want to bang on about that, I tried to do what I could and it wasn’t enough really,” he said. “I woke up this morning and felt terrible, but once I got going and loosened up it was better. It’s just one of those things that you have to crack on and deal with — just keep fighting I guess.”

Time-trial specialist Tony Martin, a teammate of Roglic at Jumbo-Visma, was among the early starters. Under grey skies but dry roads, the four-time individual time trial world champion played it safe following his big crash earlier in the race and crossed the line in 35 minutes, 33 seconds.

Mikkel Bjerg of Denmark, a rising star in the discipline with three U23 titles in the race against the clock, dramatically improved on Martin’s time with 33:01.

Bjerg finished his run under a slight drizzle and the rain intensified afterward, making the roads slippery for the riders starting out later. American Brandon McNulty was among those and crashed, crossing the finish line lagging well behind and with both legs bloodied.

Times improved once the rain stopped and roads dried out. Kung, a five-time Switzerland champion, stayed for a while in the hot seat and looked dejected when Pogacar crossed the line.

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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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