Roglic glimpses Tour de France triumph from Alpine peaks

Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic, in the leader’s yellow jersey, takes second position on Stage 17 of the Tour de France over 107 kms from Grenoble to Meribel Col de la Loze, Wed., Sept. 16, 2020. (AP Photo)
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Updated 16 September 2020

Roglic glimpses Tour de France triumph from Alpine peaks

  • With the Slovenian pair Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar playing cat and mouse for the overall leader’s yellow jersey, the cagey Miguel Angel Lopez grabbed Wednesday’s 17th stage
  • The Slovenians have been the story of the Tour and will likely square off for the overall win on stage 20’s mouthwatering individual time trial

MÉRIBEL, France: Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic once more prevailed on his toughest test yet to remain on course for Tour de France glory, while Miguel Angel Lopez soloed to a breathtaking stage win atop the highest mountain of the race.
With the Slovenian pair Roglic and Tadej Pogacar playing cat and mouse for the overall leader’s yellow jersey, the cagey Lopez grabbed Wednesday’s 17th stage by the throat with a surging burst for the line that also allowed Roglic to leave behind his 21-year-old rival.
Lopez’s win at high altitude gave Colombia something to celebrate on the day 2019 champion Egan Bernal pulled out after he and his team Ineos failed to live up to expectations.
With two massive mountains the queen stage ascended to 2,304m altitude atop the Col de la Loze, where Tour rookie Pogacar lost just a handful of seconds to Roglic in their ongoing war of attrition.
Pogacar has however been racing virtually alone, and won plaudits challenging Roglic, who has appeared rock-steady with a powerful climb posse surrounding him in Jumbo’s black and yellow outfits.
The Slovenians have been the story of the Tour and will likely square off for the overall win on stage 20’s mouthwatering individual time trial.
As Lopez pulled away team Jumbo leader Roglic also showed too much power for Pogacar on the last agonizing kilometer.
“That was hell,” said the former ski jumper Roglic.
“I’m glad this is behind me,” he added, merely needing to survive without a major incident to win this year’s Tour.
“Every meter counts on a climb like that.”
Shorn of Bernal Ineos co-captain Richard Carapaz produced a doomed solo bid as the Giro champion was caught on the ever-changing gradient of the final 7km above 2,000m as the top 10 experienced a slight shake-up.
A day after the race was cleared of Covid-19 to run all the way to Paris on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron was present as the peloton struggled through villages full of ubiquitous baskets of flowers hanging from Swiss-style ski chalets.
In the rarefied air that suits the men from the Andes, the 26-year-old Lopez leapfrogged compatriot Rigoberto Uran and extended his lead over Adam Yates and Richie Porte.
Roglic now leads his young compatriot Pogacar by 57 seconds with just three real races left before the Tour gets to Paris.
Suffering from a bad back for a month now Bernal, his Tour defense in tatters, said a sad goodbye to the 2020 edition when Ineos decided to protect the long-term interests of their 23-year-old captain by withdrawing him.
But his compatriot Astana captain Lopez, who is known as “Superman” in his homeland after fighting off three thieves who tried to steal his bike, gave Colombia something to shout about.
Lopez had complained earlier in the race that Jumbo’s dominance was suffocating the race, but saw his opportunity on a mentally challenging finale where the varying gradient called for constant adaptations.
“I felt strong coming into the race and on the Grand Colombier, which was the first big one (climb) of the race, like the ones I train on in Colombia, I felt good,” Lopez said.
“I won many things in my life, but this is impressive and I worked so hard to get here,” said the man who has previously finished on the podium at both the Giro and the Vuelta.
The long hard 14km struggle up the Col de la Madeleine to its 2,000m summit was at the halfway point of the race.
Lopez made the difference on the even higher Meribel mountain with a sudden turn of pace while Roglic and Pogacar were watching each other.
“I felt at home over 2,000m, as I live at 2,500m above sea level,” he explained. “But I won’t win, the others ahead of me are too good on time trials. I’m just going to enjoy myself.”
The key remaining challenge is stage 20, the 36km individual time trial that runs over 30km of rolling terrain before tough 6km ascent up the fabled Planche des Belles Filles on Saturday.
The final day on Sunday is a kind of parade, except for the concluding eight laps of the Champs-Elysees, where Ireland’s Sam Bennett will face a stern challenge for the green sprint jersey from seven-time winner Peter Sagan on a last-gasp dash for the line.


Saudi Arabia celebrates 20th year of first Olympic medal win

Updated 28 September 2020

Saudi Arabia celebrates 20th year of first Olympic medal win

  • Hadi Souan scooped silver in Sydney at 29; athlete says success was for whole nation

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s first Olympic medal win 20 years ago inspired a generation of athletes and was a catalyst for the development of sport, according to the president of the Kingdom’s Olympic committee.

Hadi Souan won silver in the 400m hurdles at the Sydney Games in 2000.

The accomplishment was one of many in a long and successful journey for the athlete, who became a board member of the Saudi Arabian Athletics Federation (SAAF), the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC) Assembly, a member of the Olympic Council of Asia Athlete Commission, sports and events manager at Qiddiya Investment Company, a member of the Saudi Sports Arbitration Center, and a member of the SAOC’s International Relations Committee.

“Today we celebrate Souan’s achievement, which inspired a generation of Saudi athletes and was a catalyst for the development of sport in the Kingdom,” said the SAOC’s president, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal. “It gives me great pleasure to see sport thriving in Saudi Arabia. We are committed to ensuring that this trend continues and that the Kingdom’s next generation enjoys the benefits of participating in sport, both in Saudi Arabia and at major global sporting events.”

Souan started out as a footballer but took up athletics in PE class, winning second place in a school championship. He qualified to compete at the Kingdom level and went on to become a national team member in less than a year.

He started with the high jump, then decathlon and finally found himself taking on the 400m hurdles.

He trained under Egyptian coach Mohammed Thu Alfaqqar from 1991, under the Americans until 1994, and under 1968 Olympic gold medalist Lee Evans. But the best place Souan remembers training at was UCLA.

“It is a sport and artistic society indeed,” he said. “We spoke, ate, slept, and even relaxed for sport. These little things and the different sleeping habits here and there made me suffer a bit when I came back from the States, but we got used to it and I knew it made a difference in my lifestyle and mentality-wise.”

Souan also trained the European way in Paris under a Russian coach and France’s Amadou Dia Ba. “Hence I started to learn the difference between European and American schools,” he added. The US schools concentrated on endurance, while the French focused on speed.

He was grateful for the exposure to different cultures while training abroad with elite athletes, especially at a time when there was limited social awareness about the importance of sport.

“When I started training with US 400m hurdler Kevin Young, who clocked an Olympic record of 46.78 seconds at the 1992 Barcelona Games and which remains unbeaten until now, I felt that I could do what he is doing. I only need to be determined, disciplined, and committed and everything from there started to become imaginable. I started to see myself winning and when the time came and toward the end of the race I knew I was getting there but I wasn’t first. First place went to American Angelo Taylor who won in 47.50 seconds, while I did 47.53.”

He remembers the winning moment and never expected how the country would react to his achievement. It was overwhelming. 

He modestly said it was not his success alone, that it was a success for the whole nation and all of his team headed by the former SAAF president Prince Nawaf bin Mohammed, agent Emanuel Hudson, and coach John Smith. They all worked hard to create the right environment for him to deliver the medals.

“We were welcomed by the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, by the former president of General Presidency of Youth Welfare Prince Sultan bin Fahd, and everyone was happy and proud of what we did. I knew then that what I was fortunate to do was not simple at all and, luckily, was appreciated. I believe everyone started to look up for Saudis in athletics and watch out for similar future talents.”

The beauty of sport, he added, was its spirit and the values that were learned and developed through years of training, competing, winning and losing. 

“Although Taylor won first place we all, as a sports community, remain friends and also competed afterwards in several matches where he again took first place and I came second again. He came from a distance running race which allowed him to master his skills at the end of the 400m hurdles events, his approach was and still is just amazing.”

Souan won the silver medal aged 29 at his second Olympic appearance, in what he felt was perfect timing as he might not have been as successful at subsequent Games.

“Usually when you get to taste that level of achievement on a global scale you want more, but I knew that it was time to give back now and help my teammate and younger generations taste it at an early age.”

That’s how I got involved in the athletics federation and the Sports Ministry afterwards.”

He said that it did not matter how someone was built, as long as they had the willpower to work on their body and skills in order to become the best they could be in the sport that they liked. He added that parents had greater awareness, as did athletes, and wished that more Saudis could do what he could not.

Although Souan retired as an athlete at the age of 34, after competing in the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar, he was and still is a role model who keeps giving back to his country. Because of his passion for sports he was a physical education teacher and then supervisor at the Ministry of Education. 

“I always felt responsible to keep my record clean because I’ve seen how parents and students used to look up to me so, as an Olympian, I wanted to give a good example.”

In addition to the Olympic silver medal he won, with an Asian record of 47.53 seconds, Souan counts the 2001 Goodwill Games hurdles silver from Brisbane as his most prized possession. 

All told Souan has won 40 gold medals including one from the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea.