2022 Tour de France: Cyclists to watch

1 Comment

Ten riders to watch at the Tour de France, live on NBC Sports and Peacock from July 1-24 (broadcast/streaming schedule here) … 

Tadej Pogacar
UAE Team Emirates/Slovenia
2020, 2021 Tour de France winner

In 2020, Pogacar became at 21 the second-youngest winner in race history, after Henri Cornet in 1904, and the first man in more than 60 years to pedal in the yellow jersey for the first time on the final day of a Tour. In 2021, Pogacar was more dominant, taking the lead on stage eight and holding it through the end of the Tour. He won by 5 minutes, 20 seconds, the largest gap since 2014. Pogacar enters as the clear favorite to join Chris Froome as three-peat Tour de France champions in the last 27 years (not including the stripped Lance Armstong). He can also join Eddy Merckx as the only men to win the Tour in each of their first three starts. Again, the question is whether a deep team like Jumbo-Visma can find the winning strategy to take him down.

Primoz Roglic
Jumbo-Visma/Slovenia
2020 Tour de France runner-up

The converted junior champion ski jumper was the favorite to win the 2020 Tour and wore the yellow jersey in the decisive penultimate stage. But Pogacar won that crucial time trial by a monstrous 81 seconds, easily erasing the 57-second deficit to Roglic. Still, it was a historic Slovenian one-two on the podium in Paris. In 2021, Roglic withdrew before the ninth stage of the Tour after being compromised by a crash six days earlier. This year, Roglic won the Criterium du Dauphine, a key Tour lead-up race.

Jonas Vingegaard
Jumbo-Visma/Denmark
2021 Tour de France runner-up

Assumed Jumbo-Visma’s leader role after Roglic withdrew from last year’s Tour in his second-ever Grand Tour. Performed admirably, dropping Pogacar on Mont Ventoux en route to his overall runner-up finish, well back of Pogacar. Seven years younger than Roglic, he may be not only the team’s the future, but also its present. He was second at the Dauphine behind Roglic, and they may be ticketed for co-leader roles at the Tour in an effort to dethrone Pogacar.

Geraint Thomas
Ineos Grenadiers/Great Britain
2018 Tour de France winner

Ineos isn’t the dominant force it once was. Neither is Thomas, who is 36 years old. Younger teammates Adam Yates and Dani Martinez may be better shots at the Tour podium, but Thomas is the unquestioned face of the team. He did win the Tour de Suisse, which is one of two primary Tour lead-up races along with the Dauphine. The Tour de Suisse field did not include Pogacar, Roglic or Vingegaard.

Chris Froome
Israel–Premier Tech/Great Britain
2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 Tour de France winner

The most decorated cyclist in the field with seven titles across the three Grand Tours, the last coming in 2018. Hasn’t been a general classification contender since 2019, when he broke his right femur, elbow and several ribs, was in intensive care and underwent surgery for several hours after crashing into a wall at 34 miles per hour. At 37, who knows how many Tours he has left.

Peter Sagan
TotalEnergies/Slovakia
Record seven-time Tour de France green jersey champion

Won his most recent green jersey title for sprinters in 2019, which was also the last time he won a stage. Withdrew from last year’s Tour before stage 12 due to a knee injury. Rival Mark Cavendish went on to win the green jersey competition, but Cavendish wasn’t selected for this year’s Tour. Withdrew from the Tour de Suisse afte testing positive for COVID-19 for a third time, though he said he didn’t have symptoms.

Fabio Jakobsen
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl/Netherlands
2021 Vuelta a Espana sprint champion

Replaced Cavendish as Quick-Step’s sprinter and may be the green jersey favorite in his Tour debut at age 25. Won five stages at the 2021 Vuelta a Espana and has 10 wins overall this year. In 2020, suffered a Tour of Poland finish line crash that resulted in him being placed in a medically induced coma. Injuries included brain and lung contusions, skull fractures, a broken nose and the loss of 10 teeth.

Wout van Aert
Jumbo-Visma/Belgium
Six-time Tour de France stage winner

A support rider for Roglic in recent years, van Aert added green jersey ambitions this year. You have to take him seriously, given his credentials: three world titles in cyclo-cross, Olympic and world championships medals in the time trial and road race, a stage winner in each of the last three Tours and fourth in the king of the mountains standings last year. Hit one of his knees against his handlebars in a training ride 10 days before the Tour and withdrew from Belgian nationals as a precaution.

Sepp Kuss
Jumbo-Visma/USA
Lone American to win Tour de France stage since 2011

There was a bit of concern that Kuss might not make Jumbo-Visma’s deep Tour de France roster. But he’s back in his usual role in support of the team leader(s) Roglic (and Vingegaard). In 2020, Kuss was often the man riding in front of Roglic on the major climbs. In 2021, the native of Durango, Colorado, won a stage after Roglic withdrew. The last time an American won a Tour stage was sprinter Tyler Farrar in 2011.

Filippo Ganna
Ineos Grenadiers/Italy
Two-time reigning world time trial champion

Succeeded Australian Rohan Dennis as the world’s top time trialist. Fifth on a hilly Tokyo Olympic course. Here, he will be favored to wear the yellow jersey in his Tour debut given the first stage is a flat time trial. Ganna is also an Olympic and world champion in track cycling in pursuit events.

NBC Sports research contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Ilia Malinin’s quadruple Axel sheds light on first figure skater to land triple Axel

Vern Taylor
Vern Taylor, the first figure skater to land a triple Axel in competition. (Getty Images)
0 Comments

Vern Taylor arrived at the Riverside Skating Club in Windsor, Ontario, on Sept. 15 to do what he has done at that rink for the last three decades: coach figure skaters. But this day was different.

Taylor, who in 1978 became the first man to land a ratified triple Axel in competition, was told that 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin performed the first quadruple Axel the previous night.

“When we heard that he landed it, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s terrific,'” Taylor said by phone.

He was then shown video of Malinin’s feat.

“Anything’s possible,” Taylor said. “43 years [later], that’s something. It’s knowing that you can perform the jump that makes it challenging.”

Malinin, the world junior champion, landed the most difficult jump in skating and checked off the only remaining quad yet to be performed.

At the 1978 World Championships in Ottawa, a 20-year-old Taylor broke through a similar barrier in hitting the last remaining unchecked triple jump. But while Malinin’s senior career seems to be just getting started, and many medals appear in his future, Taylor is largely a forgotten man outside of ardent figure skating followers.

He finished 12th at those 1978 World Championships. Taylor’s 1980 Olympic prospects were dimmed by the fact that Canada had just one men’s singles spot, and he had taken runner-up at nationals in 1978 and 1979 to Brian Pockar, who also outscored Taylor at those years’ world championships. So Taylor stopped competing a year before the Lake Placid Games.

“I didn’t have a reason,” he said. “I just decided to take a break.”

Taylor will always have that day at the world championships in Ottawa. He can still remember the nervousness, knowing that two other skaters also planned to attempt a triple Axel. They were unsuccessful, though Taylor didn’t know it.

“I didn’t see their jumps,” he said. “I didn’t want to know what was ahead of me.”

American David Jenkins landed a triple Axel in Movietone newsreel footage reported to be from 1957, but that was not in competition.

Taylor, skating to music from “Rocky,” put the triple Axel as the third jump of his program, according to reports at the time. The one YouTube video of it, published two years ago, has 32,000 views. It shows Taylor landing the three-and-a-half revolution jump on one foot and spinning out of it while managing to stay on that single skate blade amid a crowd roar.

“During that program, it was like a rock concert,” Taylor said. “I got the energy from the audience.”

The Montreal Gazette reported at the time that the jump was ratified three hours later. Italian Sonia Bianchetti, the men’s referee at the 1978 Worlds, said she met with the assistant referee, the ISU president and a technical delegate.

“During this short meeting it was recognized that Vern had completed the first triple Axel Paulsen jump [Norwegian Axel Paulsen was the skater who landed the first Axel jump in 1882, getting it named after him] in an officially recognized figure skating competition,” she wrote in an email last month. “The triple Axel was fully rotated and landed on one foot.”

One of the people inside the Ottawa Civic Centre that day was 16-year-old Canadian Brian Orser. Orser, inspired by Taylor, later became synonymous with the jump — labeled “Mr. Triple Axel” and landing it en route to silver medals at the Olympics in 1984 and 1988 and the 1987 World title.

Orser remembered Taylor visiting his skating club for an exhibition. Orser saw Taylor doing an Axel takeoff exercise off the ice, incorporated it into his own routine and began teaching it to his skaters after becoming a coach.

Yet another Canadian, Kurt Browning, was the first man to land a ratified quadruple jump of any kind in competition — a toe loop at the 1988 World Championships.

“For me, personally, it was huge,” he said, “because I was promised a car if I could land it.”

Through an agreement with an Edmonton car dealership, Browning was handed the keys to a Quattro — quad/Quattro — after hitting the toe loop. The skater was unaware that the dealer was merely leasing it to him. About six months later, Browning received a call asking to bring the car back.

Browning was inspired by American Brian Boitano, whom he previously saw land a quad outside of competition. Taylor motivated him, too.

“[Taylor] gave me permission, even at a young age, to start thinking bigger,” he said.

Browning also pointed to Jozef Sabovčík, a 1980s skater for then-Czechoslovakia who many believe was the first man to land a quad in competition, Browning included. Sabovčík was initially given credit for a quad toe loop at the 1986 European Championships, but weeks later it was invalidated because he touched down with his free foot, according to reports.

“I never want to come off as arrogant, but despite what ISU [International Skating Union] decided in the end, I do know that I landed the jump on that day,” Sabovčík, who said he performed a quad jump on his birthdays through age 44, wrote in an email. “The fact that most of the people in the skating world believe the same thing, it means everything to me that Kurt is one of them. It would have been nice to have my name in the Guinness Book of Records, but I am also not trying to change history.”

Sabovčík, now 58 and coaching in Salt Lake City, attended March’s world championships in Montpellier, France, where Malinin finished ninth. There, he spoke with Malinin’s parents, Russian-born Uzbek Olympic skaters Tatyana Malinina and Roman Skornyakov, whom he calls friends.

“They told me that he was already doing a quad Axel on a fishing pole harness [in practice], and that it was coming,” Sabovčík said.

Less than two months after that talk, the first video surfaced of Malinin landing a clean quad Axel — at a U.S. Figure Skating jump camp.

“I did not think [a quad Axel] was possible,” Sabovčík said. “It really has to be an athlete that can combine the technical ability with jumping ability with the speed of rotation. When Kurt and I jumped, we had a relatively speaking slow rotation, but we jumped really big compared to these kids. But Ilia, he has the vertical lift, but he [also] has an unbelievably fast rotation.”

The recent proliferation of quads in men’s and women’s skating can be attributed to several factors, including better boots, better ice conditions and improvements in technology that can aid coaching. Still, there are concerns about if and how the pounding of training quads can wear down a skater physically.

“It’s a lot of pain you don’t feel at first, but you know it comes later,” said Frenchwoman Surya Bonaly, who started training a quad in 1989 and attempting it through the mid-1990s. Bonaly had two hip surgeries after her competitive career.

Even Taylor faced those questions.

“People said, ‘Aren’t you worried about injuring yourself?'” he said. “I would say, ‘No, I want you to know it can be done.'”

Sabovčík never tried a quad Axel in his skating days, but Browning did for less than a week in the early 1990s after winning four consecutive world titles.

“Just playing with it,” said Browning, who never tried it in competition. “Ilia has that special ability to not only get up in the air, but then he has that beautiful rotation that doesn’t look hurried. It’s fast, it’s quick as lightning, but it doesn’t look hurried. It’s so easy. Like a good golfer swings easy, and the ball goes 400 yards.”

Browning recalled a conversation he had with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who in recent years made the quad Axel his quest. Hanyu attempted it in competition last season but did not land it cleanly before retiring in July. He said upon retirement that he still hoped to master the jump for his non-competitive show career.

“I asked Yuzu one day, ‘When you do quad Axel, does it just feel like you’re up there forever?'” Browning said. “And he kind of looked at me funny, and he goes, ‘Yeah, like it never ends.'”

The skating world awaits the reserved Hanyu’s thoughts on Malinin’s quad.

“Knowing Yuzu, I would think he’d be very supportive,” said Orser, who coached Hanyu for nearly a decade. “He appreciates that kind of athleticism.”

Orser also noted what comes with being the first — and so far only — skater to land a rarefied jump. Malinin, who headlines Skate America in two weeks, will be asked about the quad Axel in just about every interview for the foreseeable future. For some skaters, they may feel a responsibility to land it all the time.

“But I don’t think [Malinin] thinks too much about it,” Orser said. “His technique is perfect, so he’ll be fine.”

The inevitable topic after that is the next progression in skating: the first quintuple jump. Orser said that Hanyu did five-rotation Salchows in practice with the aid of a harness.

“It’s just a little bit more rotation than the quadruple Axel, so it’s not that far off,” said Sabovčík, whose unratified quad toe loop came eight years after Taylor’s triple Axel. “Now that I’ve seen the quad Axel, I don’t think it’s impossible.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Aleksandra Trusova splits from coach Eteri Tutberidze, months after Olympic tears

Alexandra Trusova, Eteri Tutberidze
Getty
0 Comments

Olympic figure skating silver medalist Aleksandra Trusova reportedly split from coach Eteri Tutberidze‘s group, eight months after a tearful scene after the Olympic free skate.

Trusova, 18, will now be coached by Svetlana Sokolovskaya, according to Russian media reports dating to Saturday. All Russian skaters are ineligible to compete internationally indefinitely due to the national ban over the war in Ukraine, but Russia is still holding domestic events.

At the Beijing Winter Games, Trusova became the first woman to land five quadruple jumps in a free skate. She had the highest score that day, but it wasn’t enough to make up the gap to fellow Tutberidze pupil Anna Shcherbakova from the short program.

Moments after the competition ended, Trusova was seen crying and yelling at Sergey Dudakov, a member of Tutberidze’s coaching team.

“Everyone has a gold medal! Everyone has! Only I don’t! I hate figure skating! I hate! I will never step on the ice again! Never!” she said in Russian.

Shcherbakova had the individual gold, and the other Russian women’s singles skater at the Games, Kamila Valiyeva, skated both programs of the team event. The Russians placed first in the team event, but medals will not be awarded until Valiyeva’s doping case is adjudicated. It’s possible that Valiyeva gets retroactively disqualified, the Russian team gets disqualified and the other nations all move up with the U.S. going from silver to gold.

Trusova performed at the Russian test skates last month, withdrawing after her short program due to a back injury.

Trusova previously left Tutberidze in 2020 for two-time Olympic champion turned coach Yevgeny Plushenko‘s group, then moved back to Tutberidze’s group after the 2020-21 season.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!