ORCIÈRES-MERLETTE, France (VN) — The view was stunning as Tuesday’s Tour de France route plowed headlong into the French Alps. Yet something was missing.
In fact, a lot was missing — a lot of fans.
I’ve never seen a Tour de France mountaintop finale like this.
Police were blocking traffic 15km from the finish line Tuesday. That’s part of the COVID-19 protocol that VeloNews reported on this week, with Tour officials shutting off 27 of the Tour’s major climbs to cars and campers.
Tuesday was the first glimpse of what that will look like.
It was odd driving up the switchbacks to see literally just a few dozen of fans. There were no massive hoards of fans lining the road. No dancing devils, no one running along side the riders, no one wearing a pair of elk antlers. None of the color and excitement of what a normal Tour looks like.
We stopped to talk to some fans. A pair of cyclists had driven up from Gap, ditched their car at the bottom of the valley, and then ridden up. Another family came from a nearby village.
I’ve asked a few riders what it’s been like racing so far at the Tour. Inside the race, they say nothing’s changed, but they’re noticing the difference.
“It’s a shame that the fans aren’t out like they usually are,” said Mitchelton-Scott’s Jack Bauer. “That’s what makes the Tour so special. That’s just the way it is this year.”
“There is no interaction at all with the fans, and the Tour de France is all that,” said Sunweb’s Nicolas Roche. “In a way, you miss signing autographs, giving a handshake to a kid, that’s all part of cycling heritage, and that’s all taken away for very clear safety reasons. That’s the most difficult bit.”
There are some other factors, too. In September, it’s not vacation time like it is in July, and students are heading back to school this week in France. With flight restrictions, fans from the United States, Australia and other countries can’t get to France even if they wanted to.
It’s just one more element of what’s going to be a very different — and what everyone is hoping is a one-off — edition of the Tour de France.
Having so few fans does make it easier getting up and down these climbs for everyone inside the Tour bubble. I’ve burned out a few clutches over the years trying to negotiate the mobs on l’Alpe d’Huez. I remember years ago driving through the maddening crowds of the Col de Joux Plane, someone threw a plate of spaghetti onto my windshield.
That made for an exciting day at the office.
There will be no burned clutches, no flying pasta at this year’s Tour de France mountain stages. Just the strange — if necessary — sound of silence.
How long for Julian?
Julian Alaphilippe doesn’t seem to have the same legs as he did in 2019, but it was impressive how he fought to defend the yellow jersey Tuesday. He’s a crowd favorite in France for good reason. He’s a natural showman that is giving the home fans something to cheer about in this COVID-19 Tour.
How long will he last in yellow? That was the big question last year, wasn’t it? Everyone expected him to crack, and he ended up driving all the way into the Alps in yellow. Even he admits there won’t be any miracle repeats this year.
“My plan doesn’t change,” Alaphilippe said. “I am going to defend the jersey as long as possible. I could not prepare the same as last year. I’m in the yellow jersey and I will fight for it as long as I can.”
Tomorrow should see Alaphilippe get some help from the sprinter teams, but stage 6 sees another uphill finale. The “Alapanache” version of 2019 would be dreaming big. In 2020, Alaphilippe is firmly into taking it day-by-day mode.
Wednesday’s 183km fifth stage has Peter Sagan written all over it. It’s a rising finale that perfectly suits the flamboyant three-time world champion. Sagan isn’t looking his sharpest so far, and could see a challenge from the likes of Greg Van Avermaet or Sam Bennett. My pick? Golden Greg gets the win.
What’s at stake on final day of MLB regular season – Sportsnet.ca
Four teams, two National League playoff spots.
And the AL Central champion.
Besides post-season seeding, that’s what remains to be decided on the last scheduled day of this bizarre baseball season. It could all come down to the wire at once in a wild rush, too, with every meaningful game Sunday starting just after 3 p.m. EDT.
“If you said that to me before the season started or on opening day, I would probably look right at you very honestly and say, `I would not be surprised if this season came down to the very last game.’ And that’s what we get,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Christian Yelich and the Brewers control their own fate. So do Yadier Molina and the Cardinals. The winner of their matchup Sunday in St. Louis punches a post-season ticket. Brett Anderson (4-3) pitches for Milwaukee against Austin Gomber (1-1).
San Francisco is still breathing, but needs help. Bryce Harper and the Philadelphia Phillies need even more.
One more chance to play in October as part of a playoff field expanded to 16 teams this year following a rocky regular season reduced to 60 games because of the coronavirus.
“It’s frustrating because you see the team that you have around you and you know we should be there — we should easily be there,” Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen said Saturday night after a 4-3 loss at Tampa Bay left Philadelphia on the brink of elimination. “To be on the outside looking in right now, it can be frustrating at times.”
The Phillies (28-31) got a reprieve hours later, staying in the race when San Francisco lost to San Diego. They need a win Sunday over the Rays and losses by the Giants and Brewers to land their first playoff berth in nine years.
San Francisco (29-30) needs a victory over the visiting Padres and a Brewers loss. The Cardinals (29-28) make it with a win or a Giants loss. Milwaukee (29-30) is in with a win or losses by the Giants and Phillies.
“We just have to keep our head up and try to win,” San Francisco pitcher Johnny Cueto said.
Over in the American League, all eight teams are set. All that’s left to be determined is seeding — and first place in the Central.
Minnesota has a one-game lead and can lock up its second consecutive division crown — and the No. 2 seed in the AL — with a win at home against Cincinnati or a White Sox loss at home to the Cubs.
“I look at that 2019 banner a lot up there at the stadium, so it’d be nice to put another one up there,” Twins reliever Taylor Rogers said.
If the teams finish tied, Chicago wins the division because it holds the tiebreaker over the Twins.
“It would mean a lot for all of us that have been here for the last couple of years,” White Sox infielder Yoan Moncada said through a translator. “It would be a really good starting point for us for the next season because we would have that foundation there.”
AL East champion Tampa Bay has clinched the league’s top seed. Oakland won the AL West and will also play a best-of-three first-round series at home beginning Tuesday — possibly against rival Houston.
Even without winning the Central, Minnesota is assured of playing at home, where the Twins are a major league-best 24-6. Cleveland can earn home-field advantage with a win over last-place Pittsburgh and a White Sox loss.
The Yankees and Blue Jays are also in, but headed out on the road.
Anthony Rizzo and the Chicago Cubs clinched the NL Central crown Saturday night even while losing to the crosstown White Sox. So the third-seeded Cubs will open at home Wednesday just like the other National League division winners, top-seeded Los Angeles and No. 2 seed Atlanta.
“This one feels good,” Rizzo said.
San Diego will be the No. 4 seed. Cincinnati and surprising Miami have also secured spots, though their seeds are still to be determined.
Houston (29-30), Milwaukee (29-30) or Philadelphia (28-31) could become the first team in major league history to qualify for the post-season with a losing record.
The Astros, who close their season at Texas, have already clinched their fourth straight playoff appearance. That means first-year manager Dusty Baker will take his fifth different franchise to the post-season in that role.
And there’s also a possibility the regular season could extend to Monday.
If the Cardinals lose Sunday and San Francisco wins, St. Louis must head to Detroit for a doubleheader Monday to make up two games postponed by the Cardinals’ coronavirus outbreak this summer.
Makeup games to settle the playoff race. Certainly would be a fitting way to finish the 2020 season.
UFC 253 results: Matches to make for ‘Adesanya vs Costa’ main card winners – MMA Mania
UFC 253 went down last night (Sat., Sept 26, 2020) inside Flash Forum on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. In the main event of the event, Israel Adesanya retained his Middleweight title after defeating Paulo Costa, knocking him out in round two (see it again here). In the co-headlining act, Jan Blachowicz became UFC’s newest Light Heavyweight champion after he flattened Dominick Reyes with some accurate striking, also in round two (video replay).
Winner: Israel Adesanya
Who He Should Fight Next: Jared Cannonier
After “The Last Stylebender” took out Paulo Costa, he took the opportunity to call for his next fight, a rarity when you’re the champion. Indeed, Adesanya stated that if Jared Cannonier gets through Robert Whittaker at UFC 254 on Oct. 24, 2020, also on “Fight Island,” he will gladly grant him the next title shot. Should “Gorilla” come up short, there is no telling if Israel would grant Whittaker a rematch. If the champ wants it, there really is no reason not to give it to him.
Winner: Jan Blachowicz
Who He Should Fight Next: Thiago Santos vs Glover Teixeira winner
Jon Jones teased that he could very well could take a quick trip back to 205 pounds in order to reclaim his title after vacating it earlier this year, which gave Jan and Dominick Reyes to become new champion. But I highly doubt UFC would go for that, as Jones is preparing for his move to Heavyweight. That being said, the winner of Teixeira vs Santos — which is set to go down on Nov 7, 2020 — should get first crack at dethroning Blachowicz. Santos already has a knockout win over him, so a rematch would be highly-intriguing. A fight against Teixeira offers up a great battle, as both men posses dangerous knockout power.
Winner: Brandon Royval
Who He Should Fight Next: Alexandre Pantoja
Royval stated after the fight that he hesitated to call out a high-ranked foe, but he is simply being too hard on himself, as he had a great win over Kai Kara France. A fight against Pantoja seems fitting at the moment since the No.5 ranked fighter is coming off a tough loss to Askar Askarov. Prior to that, he was making huge strides toward a shot at the title. Pantoja has the experience edge that could let us know just where Royval fits in the division, though his first two wins over Tim Elliott and Askarov already gave us a pretty good idea.
Winner: Ketlen Vieira
Who She Should Face Next: Raquel Pennington
A match up between Vieira and Pennington seems like a fitting one since both ladies got back in the win column in their previous outing. Vieira defeated Sijara Eubanks in Abu Dhabi, while “Rocky” took out Marion Reneau. Prior to that, Vieira was defeated by Irene Aldana, and Pennington by Holm, two ladies who will collide next week on “Fight Island.” The title shot in the women’s Bantamweight division is there for the taking and a few impressive wins for anyone in the Top 5 can get them there sooner, rather than later.
Winner: Hakeem Dawodu
Who He Should Fight Next: Bryce Mitchell vs Andre Fili winner
Dawodu picked up a huge win over Zubaira Tukhugov in Abu Dhabi, bringing his win streak to five in a row. Up next for “Mean” should be a fight against the winner of Mitchell vs Fili. Dawodu has done enough to possibly sneak into the Top 15, especially after his most recent win. But if he doesn’t get there, then perhaps a win over Mitchell or Fili will do the trick. Fili is one of the most seasoned veterans at 145 pounds, though he is also in search of a spot in the Top 15. Mitchell, meanwhile, just got there and he’ll fight like hell to stay there.
For complete UFC 253 results and coverage click here.
Blue Jays set to play Rays in playoffs after dropping finale to O's – TSN
BUFFALO, United States — Feeling healthy, confident and ready for the next challenge, the Toronto Blue Jays capped their regular season Sunday by tuning up for their first playoff appearance in four years.
A series against the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays was locked in when the Blue Jays dropped a 7-5 decision to the Baltimore Orioles in a game that meant little for either team.
Toronto gave slugger Teoscar Hernandez the day off and rested most of its relievers so they’d be fully charged for Game 1 on Tuesday at Tropicana Field. The Rays have been the class of the American League but did have some trouble with the Blue Jays at times, making this best-of-three wild-card series all the more intriguing.
“They’re looking forward to the challenge and I love that about our kids,” said Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo. “They really want it.”
By losing to Baltimore, the Blue Jays — who sealed a post-season berth last Thursday — secured the eighth and final seed.
At the start of the day, Toronto had a chance to rise to the No. 5 seed. Potential outcomes existed that could have seen first-round matchups against the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians or the Chicago White Sox.
Toronto was 4-6 against Tampa Bay this season. Four of the Blue Jays’ losses were by one run.
“They’re a good baseball team, they do everything well collectively,” said Toronto starter Tanner Roark, who gave up two earned runs to the Orioles over four innings.
“I think it’s going to come down to whoever makes the least mistakes in that series (will) win it. We’ve played them tough all year. We’ve lost a lot of one-run games and we’ve won a lot of one-run games.”
Toronto looked like it was on its way to closing the 60-game season on a five-game win streak after homers by Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., in the third inning. But the Orioles scored three runs in the fourth and tacked on three more in the fifth.
Shun Yamaguchi (2-4) shouldered the loss after working two frames. Gurriel had four hits and scored three runs.
Toronto right-fielder Jonathan Davis made an all-world play in the second inning to take a home run away from Cedric Mullins. Davis extended his left arm over the top of the wall near the foul pole and managed to squeeze the ball as he crashed to the warning track.
Davis drove in the game’s first run in the bottom half of the frame as his sacrifice fly scored Gurriel, who led off with a double. An inning later, Guerrero hit a solo shot for his ninth homer and Gurriel hit a no-doubt two-run blast for his 11th homer of the season.
Mullins helped the Orioles (25-35) cut into the lead with a two-run triple in the fourth inning and Austin Hays drove him in with a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Yamaguchi gave up three straight hits at the start of the fifth and the Orioles pulled ahead to stay.
Travis Lakins Sr., (3-2) worked two innings for the victory. Cesar Valdez pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save.
The Blue Jays finished the pandemic-shortened 60-game campaign with a 32-28 record. Toronto was 17-9 at Sahlen Field, normally home of the team’s triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons.
“Our confidence right now is great,” Gurriel said via translator Hector Lebron. “We have pretty much everybody healthy. From one through nine, the lineup is good and everybody is feeling great right now which is what you want going into the playoffs.”
Under Major League Baseball’s expanded playoff structure, 16 teams will play in the post-season. Division winners are seeded Nos. 1-3 in each league, second-place teams are seeded fourth through sixth and two wild-card teams get the seventh and eighth spots.
The Blue Jays last reached the post-season in 2016 as a wild-card entry. Toronto went on to reach the American League Championship Series for the second straight year.
Toronto’s last World Series victory came in 1993. A long playoff drought followed until the Blue Jays returned to the post-season in 2015.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2020.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
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