Tadej Pogacar takes Tour de France yellow jersey in mountains

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LE GRAND-BORNAND, France — Tadej Pogacar wagged his head and grinned, his blond hair slick from sweat and rain, his cheeks ruddy from the mountain cold and a colossal effort from smashing his remaining rivals at the Tour de France.

As he cooled down on the stationary bike, the defending champion seemed to have even surprised himself.

“Ah, what a ride. What a day,” he said, unable to wipe the smile of satisfaction off his face.

Pogacar dealt a demoralizing blow on the first day of the Tour in the Alps on Saturday, when cycling’s precocious star claimed the yellow jersey after what was a grueling eighth stage to everyone else.

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Pogacar started the day 3 minutes, 43 seconds off the lead of Mathieu van der Poel. Five categorized climbs and nearly four hours later, Van der Poel finished more than 20 minutes off the pace. The Dutchman relinquished the lead he had held for six days when he faded fast midway through the brutal stage.

Wout van Aert remained in second place but fell from 30 seconds behind at the start of the stage to 1 minute, 48 seconds behind Pogacar.

Richard Carapaz finished more than three minutes behind Pogacar, slipping to five minutes back overall in fifth.

Pogacar solidified his bid to retain his Tour title after proving once again to be a step above the rest on the most demanding ascents. He set off on his own on the fourth climb, shedding Carapaz, the last man — and possible contender — to have kept on his wheel.

Pogacar finished the 151-kilometer (94-mile) route from Oyonnax to Le Grand-Bornand in fourth place, seconds behind stage winner Dylan Teuns.

Teuns, a Belgian rider for the Bahrain team, managed to conserve a slim lead over the hard-pushing Pogacar over the final peak before negotiating the tricky descent to the finish line.

While almost the entire field suffered from the climbs in the rain and low temperatures, Pogacar saw the opportunity to turn the race on its head.

“In the end I felt great, so before the last two climbs I said to my teammates, ’Let’s try and shake up the race,” Pogacar said.

Shake it up? He crushed it.

On Sunday, riders face a second day in the Alps with a 90-mile ride over four passes before a summit finish at Tignes. But given the gaps, even the top teams may be focusing on stage wins or the second and third spots on the podium.

The peloton was in poor shape to hold up in the mountains after a crash-filled opening week and Friday’s marathon 155-mile haul. The longest stage in the Tour in 21 years had exhausted all but a handful of riders.

And more pain was in store.

In an omen for what was to come, several cyclists were already struggling right from the start. The short ascent under steady rainfall heading into the Alpine forest broke the pack into bits.

Geraint Thomas, winner of the 2018 Tour, soon fell behind. Primoz Roglic quickly followed and his Jumbo Visma team left last year’s runner-up sadly alone. Both pre-race title hopefuls, who took tumbles in the first week, completely disconnected even before the serious ascents started.

Pogacar timed his devastating attack until the category-one Col de Romme.

While other riders were hunched over the handlebars, Pogacar rode high, raising off his seat to power ahead in pursuit of the breakaway riders.

Again showing that he does not need much help from his Emirates team, Pogacar rode the final 30 kilometers up and over the category-one Col de la Colombiere all on his own.

Pogacar made Tour history by becoming the youngest post-World War II champion at 21 last year when he stunned Roglic on the race’s penultimate day, overtaking his fellow countryman with a blistering time trial.

His display on the Col de Romme and the Col de la Colombiere is poised to be remembered as the defining moment of this edition barring a dramatic change of fortune.

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U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new up-tempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

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The U.S. women’s basketball team won its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headlined a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, included neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team had nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 60 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The U.S. beat China in the final, while host Australia took bronze to send 41-year-old Lauren Jackson into retirement.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), wasn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 61, Australia 59 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia 95, Canada 65 Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA 83, China 61 Gold-Medal Game