Wout van Aert wins Tour de France stage at Mont Ventoux; top five shakeup

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MALAUCENE, France — Winning the Ventoux stage at cycling’s biggest race is a rare and celebrated feat.

No wonder a champion like Wout van Aert, with multiple titles across the sport’s most prestigious events, felt like he posted his best victory ever after mastering the daunting and grueling mountain twice in the same day at the Tour de France on Wednesday.

Near the site where his fellow Belgian Eddy Merckx — a cycling legend with five Tour wins — had to be given oxygen soon after winning the stage to Ventoux back in 1970, Van Aert triumphed following an unprecedented double ascent of the iconic mountain.

The lively stage also gave a glimmer of hope to the rivals of race leader Tadej Pogacar that he can be taken off his perch, after the defending champion briefly got dropped on the second ascent but erased the deficit on the downhill to keep his yellow jersey.

Van Aert was part of a breakaway that formed in the early stages of the nearly 200-kilometers Stage 11 in southern France. The one-day classic specialist and multiple cyclo-cross world champion made his decisive move on the final ascent to drop his breakaway companions, then kept his advantage on the descent leading to the town of Malaucene.

“I know I’m not the best climber, but when I pick my day I know I have my chances,” said van Aert. “The first time I climbed the Ventoux I was 10. It was my first big one. I was very motivated to try something today, this region is really famous in Belgium, and it’s a mythical Tour climb.”

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Pogacar was fourth, one minute and 38 seconds behind. He did not lose ground on his main rivals, even increasing his overall lead after his closest rival at the start of the stage, Ben O’Connor, suffered a hard day and dropped to fifth overall.

But for the first time since the start of the race, Pogacar showed weaknesses when he lost ground to Jonas Vingegaard near the summit. In the end it was just a scare and he holds a comfortable overall lead of five minutes and 18 seconds over Rigoberto Uran, with Vingegaard in third place, 5:32 off the pace.

At 26, van Aert is a jack of all trades. He can sprint, climb and time trial, but did not fight for the general classification, working in support of Jumbo-Visma leader Primoz Roglic. He was given more leeway by his team after Roglic retired from the Tour last week, setting his sights on a stage win.

Van Aert went solo during the second ascent of the Ventoux, about 11 kilometers from the summit. As he approached the finish line, he smiled to TV cameras and clenched his fist, then raised on his pedals and yelled in triumph with his arms outstretched.

It was van Aert’s fourth career stage win at the Tour.

The Ventoux is part of the Tour’s lore. It was the site of an incredible scene back in 2016 when four-time champion Chris Froome had to briefly run toward the summit after he damaged his bike in a crash.

An epic contest between Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani in 2000 also took place on the slopes of the “Bald Giant,” where British rider Tom Simpson died in 1967 from a combination of amphetamines and alcohol.

The stage got off to a lively start as world champion Julian Alaphilippe broke away with Nairo Quintana, but the Colombian climber could not follow his pace and got dropped.

Alaphilippe was joined by a group of three riders and created a three-minute lead over the main pack across the vineyards and rolling landscape of the Luberon region. Behind the quartet, a group of counter-attackers chased hard in the first big climb of the day, the Col de la Liguière, but could not fill the gap.

In sizzling hot weather, Pogacar rode in the main pack with his yellow jersey wide open. Others tried to cool down with small bags of ice cubes applied to their necks.

The downhill from La Liguière led the breakaway to the town of Sault and the start of the first ascent of the Ventoux via a 22-kilometer climb. They were joined at the front by the chasing group as the real suffering began.

The leading pack split with Alaphilippe and six others, including Van Aert, moving away 12 kilometers from the summit surrounded by hordes of excited fans. Riding in rarefied air, Alaphilippe was first to reach the barren summit, where swirling cloud added to the ominous lunar-looking landscape.

Paced by 2018 champion Geraint Thomas and his Ineos Grenadiers teammates, the peloton struggled to cut the gap. Alaphilippe was clocked at a top speed of 61.5 mph on the descent.

Julian Bernard took over the lead as the group went back for its second ascent of Mont Ventoux, a shorter but steeper climb compared to the first. Kenny Elissonde attacked alone but his move was countered by Van Aert.

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Chicago Marathon features Emily Sisson’s return, Conner Mantz’s debut, live on Peacock

Emily Sisson
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At Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, Emily Sisson makes her return, nearly three years after Olympic Trials disappointment. Conner Mantz makes one of the most anticipated U.S. men’s debuts in 26.2-mile racing.

It is not the norm, but an American will be one of the spotlight runners in both the men’s and women’s elite races at a major marathon. Peacock airs live coverage at 8 a.m. ET.

Sisson, 30, starts her first mass marathon since dropping out of the Olympic Trials on Feb. 29, 2020, her legs “destroyed” on the hilly Atlanta course where she started as arguably the favorite. She ran the virtual New York City Marathon later in 2020, but that was solo (and not in New York City). Her 2:38:00 isn’t recorded in her official results on her World Athletics bio.

Since, Sisson won the Olympic Trials 10,000m on the track and was the top American in Tokyo in 10th place. She moved back to the roads, winning national titles at 15km and the half marathon and breaking the American record in the latter.

Sisson vaulted into the elite group of U.S. female marathoners in 2019, when she clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in American history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow.

At the time, it was the 12th-best U.S. performance all-time. In the last two years, Keira D’Amato, 37, and Sara Hall, 39, combined to run seven faster marathons. At Chicago, a flat course that produced a world record three years ago, Sisson can answer them and perhaps get close to D’Amato’s American record 2:19:12.

“I’m hoping sub-2:20,” coach Ray Treacy said, according to LetsRun.com. “With the [super] shoes and the training behind her, I would think that’s [worth] at least three minutes.”

It is less likely that Sisson can challenge for the win on Sunday given the presence of Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 World champion and defending champion in the Windy City. The 28-year-old mom is the fifth-fastest woman in history with a personal best of 2:17:08. And Ethiopian Ruti Aga, a podium finisher in Berlin, New York City and Tokyo with a best time of 2:18:34, though she has one marathon finish since the pandemic (a seventh place).

Like Sisson, Mantz has shown strong recent road racing form. The American men’s debut marathon record of 2:07:56 (Leonard Korir) is in play. If he can break that, Mantz will be among the five fastest U.S. marathoners in history.

Rarely has a U.S. male distance runner as accomplished as Mantz moved up to the marathon at such a young age (25). At BYU, he won NCAA cross-country titles in 2020 and 2021 and placed fifth in the Olympic Trials 10,000m, then turned pro and won the U.S. Half Marathon Championships last December.

“If everything goes as planned, I think sub-2:08 is realistic,” Mantz said in a Citius Mag video interview last month. “If everything goes perfect on the day, I think a sub-2:07, that’s a big stretch goal.”

The men’s field doesn’t have the singular star power of Chepngetich, but a large group of East Africans with personal bests around 2:05. The most notable: defending champion Seifu Tura of Ethiopia and 2021 Boston Marathon winner Benson Kipruto of Kenya.

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Alpine skiing to test new format for combined race

Alpine Skiing Combined
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Alpine skiing officials will test a new format for the combined event, a race that is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported that the International Ski Federation (FIS) will test a new team format for the combined, which has been an individual event on the Olympic program since 1988. L’Equipe reported that a nation can use a different skier for the downhill and slalom in the new setup, quoting FIS secretary general Michel Vion.

For example, the U.S. could use Breezy Johnson in the downhill run and sub her out for Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom run, should the format be adopted into senior competition.

The format will be tested at the world junior championships in January in St. Anton, Austria, according to the report.

In response to the report, a FIS spokesperson said, “Regarding the new format of the combined is correct, and our directors are working on the rules so for the moment the only thing we can confirm is that there will be this new format for the Alpine combined that has been proposed by the athletes’ commission.”

Some version of the combined event has been provisionally included on the 2026 Olympic program, with a final IOC decision on its place coming by April.

This will be the third consecutive World Cup season with no combined events. Instead, FIS has included more parallel races in recent years. The individual combined remains on the biennial world championships program.

L’Equipe also reported that the mixed team parallel event, which is being dropped from the Olympics, will also be dropped from the biennial world championships after this season.

“There is nothing definitive about that yet, but it is a project in the making,” a FIS spokesperson said in commenting on the report.

Vion said the mixed team event, which debuted at the Olympics in 2018, was not a hit at the Beijing Games and did not draw a strong audience, according to L’Equipe.

The World Cup season starts in two weeks with the traditional opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria.

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