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Sky names strong team for Chris Froome at Tour de France

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PARIS — Defending champion Chris Froome will enjoy the support of a Team Sky squad featuring strong climbers at the Tour de France next month.

Aiming to win cycling’s showpiece race for a third time, Froome will be joined by Sergio Henao, Vasil Kiryienka, Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve, Wout Poels, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas on the roads of France this summer.

The Tour starts on July 2 and finishes on the Champs-Elysees three weeks later.

“I feel in good shape coming into the race this year and am fortunate to have a strong team around me, both on and off the bike,” said Froome, the 2013 and 2015 champion.

The 3,519-kilometer race features 28 mountain passes this year, as well as two individual time trials, a route that perfectly suits all-rounder Froome.

Among those expected to play a key role in protecting the British rider in the Pyrenees and the Alps are Henao, Landa, Poels, Nieve and Thomas.

Henao helped Froome to success at both Paris-Nice and the Criterium du Dauphine this season and will be making his debut at the Tour. The Colombian was withdrawn from racing by Team Sky in April after concerns over his biological data emerged, but he has since been cleared by the International Cycling Union (UCI).

Landa, who was the Team Sky leader at the Giro d’Italia but was forced to withdraw because of illness, will also compete in his first Tour.

Poels played an important role last year at l’Alpe d’Huez to help Froome resist Nairo Quintana’s attacks while the talented Thomas is widely regarded as a future Grand Tour winner.

“Every Tour is different, so that means choosing the team we believe is best equipped to deal with the many different challenges of this race,” Team Sky director Dave Brailsford said. “We have selected a talented group of riders with Chris as the leader once again. I know they will do everything they can to help him try to win yellow.”

Sharapova loses to Rybarikova at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Maria Sharapova was beaten by Magdalena Rybarikova 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the first round of the Kremlin Cup on Tuesday, ending her bid for a second title in two weeks.

Sharapova, who won the Tianjin Open two days ago, brought her usual power but lacked accuracy with some wild swings on key points.

“I felt fine physically, to be honest, especially after having played five matches in five days (in Tianjin). That was a big surprise,” Sharapova said. “Maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been … Maybe if this tournament hadn’t been in Moscow, I wouldn’t have played it.”

Sharapova was under pressure on serve from the start and saved six break points before finally being broken to 6-5. She responded by breaking Rybarikova, but Sharapova’s double fault at 4-3 in the tiebreaker handed the Slovakian the momentum to close out the set.

Rybarikova, seeded eighth, sealed the match after saving two break points to lead 5-4, then breaking Sharapova in the next game. Rybarikova will play Alize Cornet in the second round.

Six months after she returned from a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova is still trying to move back up the rankings from her current position of 57th. Her first tour appearance in Moscow in a decade drew a large and enthusiastic crowd despite taking place on a Tuesday afternoon.

Also Tuesday, seventh-seeded Julia Goerges beat Russian qualifier Polina Monova 6-0, 6-3 to set up a second-round meeting with Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.

In the men’s Kremlin Cup tournament, sixth-seeded Damir Dzumhur defeated Thomas Fabbiano 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.

Maria Sharapova wins her 1st title since doping ban

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TIANJIN, China (AP) Maria Sharapova won her first WTA title since returning from a doping ban after defeating Aryna Sabalenka to win the Tianjin Open on Sunday.

The Russian, a tournament wild card, overcame Belarusian teenager Sabalenka 7-5, 7-6 (8) despite trailing heavily in both sets.

Sharapova last won a title at the Italian Open in May 2015.

The former top-ranked player and owner of five major titles, including the 2006 U.S. Open, tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January 2016. That led to a 15-month doping ban, which expired in April.

“Such a special, special tournament, and victory for me, one that I’ll remember forever,” Sharapova said. “Sometimes you never know when it will all come together but it happened to me this week in Tianjin.”

Sharapova displayed resilience as she came from behind in both sets to overcome her 19-year-old opponent.

Sabalenka led 4-1 in the opener and 5-1 in the second before relenting to Sharapova’s greater big-match experience. It was Sharapova’s 36th WTA singles title.

The 30-year-old Sharapova played in her first Grand Slam tournament following the ban at the U.S. Open in August, where she reached the fourth round. Sunday’s result will lift Sharapova up to No. 57 in the world rankings.