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Vincenzo Nibali wins 2014 Tour de France

Vincenzo Nibali won the Tour de France on Sunday, becoming the first Italian in 16 years to triumph in cycling's greatest race by chiseling a lead over his main rivals a few seconds at a time and dominating them in the mountains.

The 29-year-old Sicilian, who called himself "a flag-bearer of anti-doping" during the race, finished in the pack behind Marcel Kittel, who won the 21st stage in a sprint finish.

PHOTOS: Crashes of the 2014 Tour de France

Nibali's victory comes after the pre-race favorites -- 2013 champion Chris Froome and two-time winner Alberto Contador -- crashed out with injuries in the first half of this year's Tour.

Astana team leader Nibali is only the sixth rider to win all three Grand Tours -- France, Italy and Spain. The last Italian to win the Tour de France was Marco Pantani in 1998.

After cruising after Kittel, a German who got his fourth stage win, Nibali got pats on the back, kissed his wife and infant daughter, and was mobbed by cameras as race organizers hustled him away to prepare for the final awards ceremony.

"Unbelievable," said Kittel, whose victories bookended this Tour. He won Stage 1 when British rival Mark Cavendish crashed out in the final sprint.

TDF Live 2014: Watch every Tour stage live | Full stage replays
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Nibali also won four stages, a feat not equaled by a Tour winner since Lance Armstrong won five a decade ago. He wore the yellow jersey for all but two stages since Stage 1. His 7 minute, 52 second margin over runner-up Jean-Christophe Peraud is the largest since Jan Ullrich of Germany beat second-placed Richard Virenque by just over 9 minutes in 1997.

In one of the subplots of this race, Peraud and third-placed Thibaut Pinot became the first Frenchmen to reach the Tour podium since Virenque in that same year.

But such comparisons, many cycling insiders have noted, miss the mark. Armstrong, Ullrich and Virenque were three of the big-name riders caught in nearly a generation of doping scandals in cycling. Armstrong, in the biggest scandal ever in the sport, admitted to doping and was stripped of his record seven Tour titles.

PHOTOS: Crazy fans of the 2014 Tour de France 

Nibali and many others in the peloton say that era is past. But his own victories in the 2010 Vuelta and the Italian Giro last year were tarnished by high-profile doping cases involving other riders. While cycling's governing body, the UCI, has made great efforts to halt use of drugs and other performance-enhancers, such as through the biological passport program, few cycling observers believe the pack is fully clean.

Many naysayers may argue that Nibali was the best of the riders still in this Tour. Colombia's Nairo Quintana, who won the Giro d'Italia in May, did not ride. Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 Tour champ, was passed over so his Sky Team could focus on Froome. Then Froome and Contador pulled out due to injuries.

But even before they left, Nibali had gained a 2-second advantage on them by winning Stage 2, surprising even himself. Then, in Stage 5 after Froome crashed out, the Italian excelled on cobblestone patches that slowed down Contador, who lost more than 2˝ minutes to Nibali. The Spaniard was forced into a need to attack.

PHOTOS: Scenic shots from the 2014 Tour de France 

On a downhill in Stage 10, Contador crashed and fractured his tibia. But Nibali, who is known as "The Shark of the Strait" -- a nod to the waterway near his hometown of Messina, Sicily -- didn't stop there. He went on to win that stage into La Planche des Belles Filles. It was the first of three stages with uphill finishes that he won, adding one in the Alps (Chamrousse) and another in the Pyrenees (Hautacam).

Nibali said this Tour layout, announced last fall, "was almost made to measure for me."

The 101st edition began in Yorkshire, England, and guided riders over 3,664 kilometers (2,277 miles) including cobblestones, wind-swept flats and climbs in the Vosges, Alps and Pyrenees.

PHOTOS: Tour de France rest day shenanigans 

With the Arc de Triomphe in Paris as the backdrop, other riders getting TV time on the winner's podium included Peter Sagan of Slovakia, winner of the green jersey given to the race's best sprinter; Rafal Majka of Poland, the best climber; and Pinot, the best young rider born since the start of 1989.

Sun, 27 Jul 2014 16:03:37 +0000
LeBron deep-sixes number; will be No. 23 with Cavs

LeBron James will go back to wearing jersey No. 23 in his return to Cleveland.

James tweeted "23 it is! It's only right I go back. 23(equals)6 We still family 6." The tweet included an Instagram post with photos of James holding his No. 23 Cavaliers jersey on draft night, him later in a new version of the Cavs' jersey and a one of him in his high school jersey.

James wore No. 6 in four seasons with Miami and with the U.S. Olympic team. He used No. 23 in high school and during seven seasons in Cleveland.

About 10 days ago, James turned to social media to help him choose which number he'll wear next season with the Cavaliers. James wrote "6 or 23...." on his Twitter account.

Sun, 27 Jul 2014 17:44:00 +0000
It's 'Jeff Gordon Day' at IMS for record 5th time

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) With a fifth Brickyard 400 victory on the line, Jeff Gordon looked like the driver he was 20 years ago.

Gordon nailed the final restart of the race to pass Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne with 17 laps remaining in Sunday's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was no given because restarts have been Gordon's Achilles heel for several years.

But he slid past Kahne and easily pulled away for a NASCAR-record five wins at historic Indy. This victory comes on the 20th anniversary of Gordon's win in the inaugural Brickyard 400, and on "Jeff Gordon Day" as declared by the Mayor of Indianapolis.

The win moves Gordon into a tie with Michael Schumacher, whose five Formula One victories at Indy had been the gold standard.

Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:06:00 +0000
Byron Scott says he will be LA Lakers' new coach

LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Lakers have waited nearly three months to hire a new coach, and they're apparently making Byron Scott wait a few more days.

Scott said this weekend that he has been hired by the Lakers, but the club insisted Sunday that no deal has been reached.

Scott, who won three NBA titles as a shooting guard for the Lakers, told KCBS-TV he will take over the club, which hasn't had a coach since Mike D'Antoni resigned April 30.

"It feels fantastic," he told KCBS. "This is a dream come true. I always wanted to coach the Lakers, especially when I got to coaching. It's so unreal. I have to thank (general manager) Mitch (Kupchak), (owners) Jeanie and Jim Buss to give me this opportunity."

Yet Kupchak and the Buss siblings remained mum Sunday, extending their strange coach-less summer to the final days of July.

ESPN.com first reported Scott would take over the Lakers with a four-year, $17 million contract.

Scott is undoubtedly qualified for the job after stints as a head coach with New Jersey, New Orleans and Cleveland. He was Kobe Bryant's teammate during Bryant's rookie year with the Lakers in 1996-97, and the superstar endorsed Scott for the job earlier this month.

"He was my rookie mentor when I first came in the league, so I had to do things like get him doughnuts and run errands for him, things like that," said Bryant, who played just six games last season. "We've had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years."

Scott also spent last season as a television commentator on the Lakers' own network, watching the franchise's implosion up close.

Los Angeles finished 27-55 last season, compiling the most losses in the 16-time NBA champions' history. The Lakers had their worst winning percentage since the Minneapolis Lakers' 1957-58 season, missing the playoffs for just the third time in 38 seasons as the NBA's most glamorous franchise was reduced to ineptitude.

Scott will be the Lakers' fifth head coach in just over three years, starting with Phil Jackson's departure after the 2010-11 season. D'Antoni, who replaced Mike Brown and interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, resigned after going 67-87 in less than two seasons in charge.

Scott has been a head coach for parts of 13 NBA seasons, going 416-521 with the Nets, Hornets and Cavaliers. He led New Jersey to back-to-back Eastern Conference championships in 2002 and 2003, losing the NBA finals each time.

Scott has won three division titles and was the NBA's coach of the year in 2008, but he also has been fired from each of his three jobs.

Several candidates for the coaching job interviewed with the Lakers over the past three months, including Lionel Hollins and George Karl. Scott has been widely considered the front-runner for the job for several weeks, but Kupchak and Jim Buss appeared to be more focused on the NBA draft and free agency.

Los Angeles landed Kentucky power forward Julius Randle with the seventh overall pick in the draft, but struck out on every big-name free agent despite aggressively courting Carmelo Anthony and entertaining dreams of landing LeBron James.

The Lakers couldn't even retain Pau Gasol, who spent the past seven seasons with the club. The 7-foot Spaniard, who was regularly booed by Staples Center fans last season despite his two championship rings, spurned the Lakers' overtures for a deal with the Chicago Bulls, who are much closer to NBA title contention.

Scott likely realizes could be inheriting a caretaker job with the Lakers, who are likely to struggle just for playoff contention for the next two seasons while Bryant's two-year, $48.5 million contract eats up a huge chunk of their salary-cap space.

The Lakers emerged from the last few weeks with a reconfigured roster that now includes point guard Jeremy Lin, power forward Carlos Boozer and center Ed Davis alongside returnees Nick Young, Jordan Hill and Xavier Henry. Los Angeles also still has 40-year-old Steve Nash, who is likely to get the chance to play another season after injuries limited him to 15 games last year.

The job is a homecoming for Scott, who grew up in Inglewood, California, in the shadow of the Lakers' Forum.

He joined the Lakers as a rookie in 1983 after the club acquired the fourth overall pick from the San Diego Clippers in a trade for Norm Nixon. A smooth shooting guard with a reliable 3-point touch, Scott was half of the Showtime Lakers' championship-winning backcourt alongside Magic Johnson, who relentlessly criticized D'Antoni in public and on Twitter over the past two years.

Mon, 28 Jul 2014 00:31:00 +0000
Kevin Love withdraws from Team USA

Kevin Love still doesn't know where he will play next season, his NBA future hanging in the air while a seldom-used league rule complicates a potential trade to Cleveland.

The only thing certain from a basketball standpoint for Love is that he won't be playing for Team USA this summer.

Love had to withdraw from Team USA's roster while the Minnesota Timberwolves field offers for their three-time All-Star, a process that was extended when Cavaliers rookie Andrew Wiggins signed his contract this week.

Love is the latest All-Star to pull out of Team USA, which begins its training camp in Las Vegas next week to prepare for the FIBA World Cup in Spain. In recent weeks the Americans have lost Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. They have 18 players remaining and will choose 12 for the World Cup of Basketball roster.

Love, who won gold medals at the 2012 Olympics and 2010 world championship and was one of the first players to commit to play this summer, told USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo that he would be unavailable for training camp that starts Monday.

"He wants to play but it's a little bit of a sign of the times when you look at the league in terms of contracts, rumored trades," Colangelo said. "All of those circumstances put players in a funny position."

The Cavaliers have been in pursuit of Love since before the draft. Their chances of landing Love, who can opt out of his contract next summer and has told the Timberwolves he wants to play for a contender, increased exponentially when LeBron James chose to return to play in Cleveland.

The Timberwolves have demanded Wiggins, the No. 1 overall draft pick, in a package in return for Love and the Cavaliers have gradually softened on their position to include the dynamic 19-year-old wing player in trade talks.

Under NBA rules, Wiggins cannot be traded until 30 days after he signed his contract with the Cavaliers. That means any possible deal could not be completed and announced by the teams until Aug. 23 at the earliest.

That length of time allows other teams to make offers for Love as well, but also makes it too risky for Love to participate with Team USA. An injury could derail any trade possibilities, so Love had to take the difficult step of informing Colangelo on Friday night that he would not be able to participate.

It had to be a tough call for Love to make. He has long held playing for Team USA as one of the highest honors possible and has referred to his experience of winning gold in London as the pinnacle of his young career. While other big stars like James were stepping away from the team to get some rest this summer, Love took pride last year in joining with Kevin Durant to be among the first elite players to recommit to the World Cup team.

"I think he truly is remorseful," Colangelo said.

Love was a vital piece to the London team, giving the Americans a rebounding presence and a much-needed big man to stretch the floor. But Colangelo said the team would be able to get by without him, pointing to an experienced roster and rising star Anthony Davis, who was on the Olympic team but played only sparingly.

"It's not like there's a barrel full of power forwards that can rebound and shoot the ball like Kevin Love," Colangelo said.

But in international competition, where teams generally play smaller than they do in the NBA, players such as Indiana's Paul George and Dallas Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons could help fill the void. DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Kenneth Faried are the other big men on the roster that could give the Americans a presence in the paint.

"Someone is going to have an opportunity to step up," Colangelo said. "We're kind of anxious to get started to look at this."

---

AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

Sun, 27 Jul 2014 01:31:00 +0000

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