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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Svetlana Romashina, seven-time Olympic champion artistic swimmer, retires

Svetlana Romashina
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Russian Svetlana Romashina, the most decorated artistic swimmer in Olympic history with seven gold medals, announced her retirement at age 33.

Romashina entered seven Olympic artistic swimming events and won all of them, starting in 2008. She won four Olympic titles in the team event and three in the duet (two with Nataliya Ishchenko and one with Svetlana Kolesnichenko).

The Tokyo Games marked her last major competition.

Romashina is the only woman to go undefeated in her Olympic career while entering seven or more events. The only man to do so was American track and field athlete Ray Ewry, who won all eight of his Olympic starts from 1900-08, according to Olympedia.org.

Romashina also won 21 world championships medals — all gold, second in aquatics history behind Michael Phelps‘ 26.

She took nearly two years off after giving birth to daughter Alexandra in November 2017, then came back to win three golds at her last world championships in 2019 and two golds at her last Olympics in 2021.

Romashina is now an artistic swimming coach, according to Russian media.

Russian swimmers swept the Olympic duet and team titles at each of the last six Olympics.

Russians have been banned from international competition since March due to the war in Ukraine.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

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Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

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Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“I was thinking, now I’m going to go through the mixed zone. and everyone’s going to ask, ‘Oh, is this Beijing again?'” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t really think about that for myself, but more for the people asking. But I also said before, coming into this world champs multiple times, I’m not afraid if it happens again. What if I don’t finish every run? What happened last year, and I survived. And then I’ve had some pretty amazing races this season. So I would take the season that I’ve had with no medals at the world championships. If it’s either/or, then I would take that. I’m happy with it. But I’m going to be pushing for medals, because that’s what you do at world champs. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you go for it. I’m not afraid of the consequences, as long as I have that mentality, which I had today.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said what happened Monday was “completely different” from the Olympics, calling it “an error of aggression.”

“It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out,” Porino said on the Peacock broadcast. “This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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