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Australian iron man eyes endurance record

If Hansen, a rider with the Lotto-Belisol team, finishes the race in Madrid on September 15, he will be the first rider since Spaniard Marino Lejaretta in 1991 to complete seven Grand Tours in succession.

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Completing two Grand Tours in a single year is considered an exceptional feat for any rider and in cycling history fewer than 40 have managed to finish all three in one season.

Hansen finished the 2011 Vuelta before completing the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Tour of Spain in 2012 and 2013.

“You do get in a routine,” Hansen, a 32-year-old from the Gold Coast who won a stage of the Giro in May, told Reuters when asked if he has ever woken up unsure which Grand Tour he was in.

“But if you can handle the routine, you can handle the Grand Tours and you can handle the racing.

“I like doing big blocks of racing and this year so far so good. I had a good season last year, so I thought ‘why not keep going and do the same again?'”

With three chunks of nearly a month each spent on the road in 2012, Hansen admits to getting homesick for his adopted European base in the town of Frydlandt nad Ostratici in the Czech Republic.

“I spend a lot of time there between the Grand Tours.” he said.

“And before the Giro d’Italia I got a month off. That’s a great thing about the team, they don’t insist on me doing a lot of races as well as the big stage races, so I’m happy doing it.”

Hansen would like to equal Lejaretta’s record next year.

“I already know I’m doing the Giro d’Italia in 2014, I hope I’ll get a place in the Tour de France as well, and I love the Vuelta,” he said.

“The order of the races, given the Vuelta’s more low pressure, does help. Other riders I’ve talked to who’ve come here for the first time are amazed by how relaxed it is in comparison to the Tour de France, how easy it is to get in a breakaway.

“But we take this race very seriously, our team has had a guy in the break every day and I enjoy it. I just hope that the day the breakaway goes, that it’ll stick – a stage win here is what I’d really like. That, and getting to Madrid.”

(Editing by John Mehaffey)

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Sochi Games work in full swing as torch ceremony looms

Organisers are rushing to complete the venues for the first Winter Games to be held in Russia, a traditional winter sports powerhouse, before the symbolic start of the Games run-up with the torch lighting at the site of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece on September 29.

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With Russia in the eye of a media storm over its recently adopted anti-gay propaganda law that has triggered protests across many countries, work at the Fisht Olympic stadium and the other Games venues continues unabated as workers put the finishing touches to the stadiums and shape the surrounding areas.

“The preparations are going well and everybody is working incredibly hard to make sure that we reach all of our targets,” Games chief Dmitry Chernyshenko said just days ago. “We have received brilliant feedback at every stage.

“The test competitions have passed successfully, which was proved by positive feedback,” he added.

Organisers tested the Olympic venues during the 2012-2013 winter season, with Sochi hosting major events in all 15 winter disciplines, with more than 3,000 athletes taking part.

The Games are divided into two clusters with the city’s Sochi Olympic park and the mountain cluster of biathlon, Alpine skiing and sliding venues some 40 kilometres away.

Sochi will see the Olympic flame land in Russia on October 7 before kicking off what is expected to be the longest torch relay for any Winter Olympics.

The Olympic flame will cover some 65,000 kilometres across Russia and will visit more than 2,900 towns and settlements, carried by more than 14,000 bearers.

The Games will open on February 7 and run to February 23.

(Writing by Karolos Grohmann, Editing by Ossian Shine)

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Nyad defends record-breaking Cuba-U.S. swim against doubters

“I swam .

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.. in squeaky-clean, ethical fashion,” Nyad told a conference call late on Tuesday that included journalists and fellow marathon swimmers, some of whom have publicly questioned aspects of her challenging journey.

“I honoured the rules,” Nyad said at the start of the conference call. “I was an ethical swimmer.”

A triumphant Nyad, 64, staggered ashore in Key West, Florida, on September 2, after having swum about 53 hours, to become the first person to complete the treacherous crossing without a shark cage.

Nyad’s swim was her fifth attempt and only successful one. The highly publicized crossing sparked a social media debate about whether her journey meets the requirements to break the world record.

Some have questioned how Nyad was able to more than double her pace about halfway to Florida, and have wondered whether she was towed at any points by tracking boats.

Marathon swimmer Evan Morrison was among a number of members of the long-distance swimming community who publicly questioned Nyad’s feat on social media.

“In reading through Diana’s crew’s live-blog, trying to suss out how this incredible swim happened, I was struck by how little information there actually was,” Morrison wrote on the online Marathon Swimmers Forum.

“These details matter because Ms. Nyad is claiming – and the media reporting without fact-checking – a new world record for longest-distance nonstop, unassisted ocean swim,” he said.

Nyad’s pace quickened significantly about halfway through the swim – from her average 1.5 miles per hour (2.4 kph) to nearly four miles per hour (6.4 kph) – a swift pace that continued for about six hours.

She and her supporters have said that she got a significant boost from a favourable Gulf stream current – a contention that independent experts who study the ocean currents in the region agreed with on Tuesday.

SWIFT CURRENT

Mitchell Roffer, who runs a Melbourne, Florida-based ocean fishing forecasting service, said Nyad caught a swift, north-moving current, and then turned east out of the current at precisely the right moment.

“To me, it was an oceanographic lotto that she hit,” Roffer told Reuters. “You can’t get much luckier than she did.”

“The current, which was pulling her in north-northwestern flow, was as perfect as you could get,” Roffer said. “It would explain why her speed was faster during that period.”

John Bartlett, one of Nyad’s navigators, said on the call that Nyad’s speed for nearly six hours – beginning about halfway through the trek – averaged 3.97 miles per hour (6.39 kph).

Nyad, who was patient and in good spirits while answering numerous detailed questions from colleagues and reporters, said that during “this record-breaking swim I never touched the boat, not even an inadvertent touch.”

But after more than two hours she grew briefly exasperated with her inquisitors. She said that in the eight days since the race, she has had little time to review all the media coverage.

“First of all I was trying to feel some joy,” she said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do all my life. Most of that joy stopped when, you know … you always expect some questioning but my own peer group, instead of coming to me and asking me questions went to the media.”

Asked why she didn’t better prepare to document the 53-hour swim with more video cameras that could have answered sceptics’ questions, she said that after four failed attempts, most of the world had given up on her.

“My own family were like, ‘Please Diana, just give this up,'” she told reporters. “Nobody wanted to be out there with us.”

She said she wished some of those now requesting so much documentation to prove she broke a record were there before she left Cuba.

At the start of her most recent attempt, she said mockingly to sceptical journalists, “I didn’t get any emails from any of you … saying, you know, you really should have someone from the Obama administration” trailing to document the journey.

The comment drew laughter, but Nyad then grew more serious, and it became clear she was hurt by the scepticism of colleagues in the tiny global community of marathon swimmers.

“I never ever knew that we would not be trusted,” she said.

The previous record was held by Australian Penny Palfrey, who attempted the same crossing without a shark cage in 2012. Palfrey swam about 80 miles (129 km) in 41 hours before adverse currents forced an end to the attempt.

(Reporting By Chris Francescani; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Eric Walsh)

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McIlroy harbours hopes of a late FedExCup push

McIlroy sits 36th in the standings, 2,984 points behind leader Tiger Woods, but with 2,500 points available for a win in the FedExCup playoff stages and a re-set before the fourth and final event, positions can be improved dramatically.

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Any player in the top five going into the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta from Sep. 19-22 knows that victory there would secure the FedExCup title and the eye-popping bonus of $10 million.

While the odds are against him, McIlroy is not going to throw in the towel just yet. He has this week at the TPC Boston, where he defends his title, and then the BMW Championship in Chicago in two weeks’ time to try to transform his season.

“What I’m trying to get out of this week is just trying to move up in the FedExCup,” world number four McIlroy told reporters on Thursday.

“Going into the little week break that we have next week, playing myself into a nice position, then I can go into Chicago and play well and maybe get myself into the top five in the standings … so I actually have a chance to still win the thing going into Atlanta.

“I know I’ll need to produce a couple of really good finishes to do that, but I feel like I’m playing well enough to do that.”

McIlroy finished tied for 19th at The Barclays last week after sharing eighth place at the PGA Championship but believes he has turned the corner after finishing outside the top 40 at the U.S. Open and missing the cut at the British Open.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong,” the Northern Irishman said. “I’ve played pretty well at times this year. Five top 10s (on the PGA Tour), and I feel like my game is definitely running into a little bit of form.

“I guess I’m a victim of my own success at times. But I know how well I can play … and I want to get back to that level,” added the double major winner.

“All I want to do is just keep trying to improve my position. I’d love to make a big jump this week, and obviously jump into the sort of competitive places going into the Tour Championship.”

(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)

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Casillas, Xavi celebrate milestones in Finland

Goalkeeper Iker Casillas and playmaker Xavi, who helped Spain win the tournament in Nigeria 14 years ago, reached 150 and 127 caps respectively in Friday’s 2-0 World Cup qualification victory against Finland in Helsinki.

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Casillas drew level with former Germany midfielder Lothar Matthaeus in 12th place on the all-time list, while Xavi climbed to second on Spain’s appearances ranking above former keeper Andoni Zubizarreta.

Casillas and Xavi play for bitter rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona but have remained firm friends and have been key performers during Spain’s glittering run since their triumph at Euro 2008.

At Euro 2012 last year, they became the only nation to win consecutive European crowns with a World Cup in between and along with the hosts will be among the favourites at the World Cup finals in Brazil next year.

Xavi, 33, remains a fixture for Barca but the 32-year-old Casillas is going through something of a crisis at Real after losing his place in the starting line-up under Jose Mourinho last season.

Mourinho’s successor Carlo Ancelotti has left him on the bench in Real’s opening three La Liga matches, opting to stick with Diego Lopez, who was bought from Sevilla as cover when Casillas broke a bone in his hand in January.

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who was in charge at Real between 1999 and 2003, has firmly backed his captain and included him in Helsinki on Friday even with Barca keeper Victor Valdes on excellent form.

The defensive-minded Finns barely tested Casillas but he responded well to the sole moment of real danger, saving with his legs when the ball ricocheted off Sergio Ramos towards goal in the 12th minute.

Del Bosque said he had been more concerned about how to break down Finland’s defence than who would play in goal.

Any one of Spain’s three keepers – Casillas, Valdes and Napoli’s Pepe Reina – was perfectly capable of playing, he told reporters.

“At this stage of the season it’s not a problem that Iker hasn’t played,” he said.

“He comes from a pre-season during which he had minutes on the pitch, he is working well in training and he was at an excellent level in our latest sessions. We will see what happens in the future.”

IMPORTANT PART

Speaking to Spanish radio about the keeper situation in the run-up to the Finland game, Del Bosque suggested Casillas had lost his starting place at his club because of his role in trying to ease tension between Spain’s Real and Barca players.

Several “Clasicos” in recent years were marred by brawling, accusations of refereeing bias and play-acting and Del Bosque said Casillas had played an important part in making sure the national team was not seriously affected.

“We are obliged to remember some things and we cannot forget what happened because they were difficult moments for the national team and Iker helped a great deal,” he said.

Spain’s comfortable victory in Finland means they have a three-point lead over France at the top of qualification Group I with two of eight matches left.

They play their final two games at home to Belarus and Georgia next month.

(Editing by John O’Brien)

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