Navardauskas delivers for Garmin as Nibali retains lead

Five days after team mate Jack Bauer was caught by the peloton a few metres from the line after a 222-km breakaway, the Lithuanian attacked on a short climb close to the finish and never looked back.

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German John Degenkolb took second place seven seconds behind and Norway’s Alexander Kristoff finished third after the main bunch was split by a late crash on roads made slippery by torrential rain earlier in the day. All the riders from the main pack were credited with the same time as the incident happened with less than three kilometres left.

“I was the first to crash, I did not know what happened,” said Slovakian Peter Sagan, who had been tipped as one of the stage favourites. Nibali still leads France’s Thibaut Pinot by 7:10 and another Frenchman, Jean-Christophe Peraud, who crashed but said he was fine, by 7:23, ahead of Saturday’s decisive time trial, a 54-km solo ride between Bergerac and Perigueux.

Garmin-Sharp, without team leader Andrew Talansky after the American pulled out due to lower back pain, only had a stage win in mind.

They had Tom-Jelte Slagter in the day’s breakaway and the Dutchman served as Navardauskas’s launchpad after the climb.

“The plan was to attack in the climb and to have one of our riders in the breakaway so he could take a strong relay to help me,” Navardauskas told a news conference.

“It’s almost amazing to keep the peloton at bay,” said Navardauskas, who had his team mate’s misfortune in mind.

“Until the last 10 metres I was afraid to turn back,” he added.

Navardauskas powered away from the pack on the fourth-category climb of the Cote de Monbazillac 13 kilometres from the finish.

Pinot’s FDJ.fr team led the peloton in the descent and on the flat portion leading to the line, Cannondale and Tinkoff-Saxo chased the Garmin-Sharp rider who was 25 seconds ahead with five kilometres left.

With just under three kilometres remaining, Peter Sagan was involved in the crash as well as France’s Romain Bardet who is fifth in the overall standings and his AG2R-La Mondiale team mate Peraud.

“I was caught in the crash, I tried to avoid it but I couldn’t. Romain crashed in front of me,” Peraud told reporters.

“Obviously the rain did not help, especially in a finale with a lot of turns and nervous sprint in the end. We crashed, it’s classic.”

Pinot, instead, was well placed by the front of the peloton and avoided the crash.

“We knew it would be a nervous stage, it was important to be near the front. I did not crash, it’s all good,” the 24-year-old Frenchman said.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

Azerbaijan to make F1 debut in 2016

Azad Rahimov, Azerbaijan’s minister for youth and sport, said in a statement that a contract had been signed for Baku to host Formula One for the first time with a ‘Grand Prix of Europe’.

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No specific date for the race or details of the length of the deal were given.

“The deal to bring Formula One racing to Baku is a very significant new chapter in our ongoing success to attract the world’s largest sporting events to our country,” he said.

Oil-rich Azerbaijan is already due to host the inaugural European Games next year, after failed bids for the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics.

Formula One’s 83-year-old commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone told Reuters in May that an agreement had been signed for a street race in the Azeri capital, on the shores of the Caspian sea, next year.

The decision to go for 2016 instead gives him more room to manoeuvre in an already crowded calendar, with 19 races this season and Mexico due to return in 2015 after agreeing a five-year deal this week.

Anything more than 20 would require the agreement of all 11 teams, and there is also the risk that some of the European races that pay less in hosting fees or whose circuits need refurbishing could be dropped.

Last Sunday’s German Grand Prix at Hockenheim drew a crowd of just 52,000 – despite Mercedes leading the championship with German driver Nico Rosberg and Red Bull having four times champion Sebastian Vettel.

BALANCE

Ecclestone has suggested Monza, the temple of Italian motorsport, may not have its contract extended beyond 2016 while Spa – a driver and fan favourite – in Belgium has been dropped in the past.

“It’s all about balance, about keeping the historical events and also bringing new events,” said Red Bull principal Christian Horner. “Of course Monza is a very popular race on the calendar and hopefully it will be there for many years to come. But it’s finding that balance.

“Azerbaijan is an exciting new venue, a new country to be visiting. Of course there’s only so many races we can accommodate in a year,” added Horner.

“I think it’s very healthy for Formula One to have such competition for these places on the calendar. It’s great news for the teams, the sport and will be of great interest.”

Force India owner Vijay Mallya told reporters that the more Formula One spread around the world, the better it was for the sport, teams and sponsors.

“That’s one of the reasons I keep nagging Bernie and trying to persuade him that India must come back,” he added, referring to a race dropped from this year’s calendar and with no return scheduled.

Russia is due to make its debut this year, despite the crisis in Ukraine, with a street race around the 2014 Winter Olympic Park in Sochi. Austria returned last month after an 11-year absence.

A street race in New Jersey remains a possibility, although plans have twice foundered.

Ecclestone said last year that he had no doubt Formula One would be racing in New Jersey in 2015 but more recent reports have suggested 2016 at the earliest, with many sceptical about that date as well.

Baku could ultimately be paired with Sochi, just as Mexico is likely to be back-to-back with the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, towards the end of next year.

The European Grand Prix designation is a floating one that was most recently used for a race in Valencia, Spain, in 2012.

It has been attached previously to grands prix held at Germany’s Nuerburgring, the British circuits of Brands Hatch and Donington Park, and Jerez in Spain.

Rahimov said the design and layout of the Baku circuit had yet to be finalised but the start/finish, main grandstand and pit were likely to be in the city’s Azadliq Square. The track will also feature local landmarks.

“We are very happy that Baku has joined the Formula One family. This will be a street race, which will pass through interesting and picturesque parts of Baku. The event will meet the current Formula One criteria,” said Ecclestone.

(Editing by John O’Brien and Toby Davis)

Ukraine seeks to skirt political crisis

Ukraine has sought to avoid a political crisis after the shock resignation of its prime minister, as fighting between the army and rebels close to the Malaysian airliner crash site claimed over a dozen more lives.

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President Petro Poroshenko called on parliament to heed “cold reason” and pass a vote of confidence in the government, a day after premier Arseniy Yatsenyuk stepped down in fury over the collapse of his ruling coalition.

Yatsenyuk’s resignation piles on more woes for a country already struggling to cope with a chaotic situation in the rebel-controlled east, where international experts are carrying out a complex investigation into last week’s downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that killed 298 people.

The grave challenges facing the country extend beyond its borders, as Washington accused Russian troops of firing artillery across the border on Ukrainian forces.

The United States has already accused Moscow of supplying the missile system it believes was used by pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine to shoot down MH17.

It said late on Thursday that it had evidence Russia was planning to “deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers” to the insurgents.

Both Russia and the rebels deny the accusations, and Moscow hit back on Friday, dismissing the US claims as a “smear campaign”.

The government’s offensive to regain control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland was given a boost Friday when its forces took the strategically-important city of Lysychansk.

At the same time, it reported losing 13 soldiers in the past 24 hours, while local authorities in the region of rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Lugansk said 16 people had been killed.

The bloody insurgency has forced 230,000 people to flee their homes, the United Nations said, including 130,000 who have sought refuge in Russia.

F1 teams rule out Russian race boycott

“Obviously what’s going on in Russia and that part of the world is of huge concern to everybody,” Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams told a news conference at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Friday.

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“But we’ve always said that as a sport we try and disengage from taking a political angle on these things.

“The FIA (International Automobile Federation) is the governing body of our sport and they issue a calendar and we have to take our direction from them. At the moment the race is still on the calendar.”

Monisha Kaltenborn, principal of the Swiss-based Sauber team who have Russian partners and have committed to training up Russian reserve driver Sergey Sirotkin, agreed.

“We have to rely on the governing body and the commercial rights holder. They are the ones who have the responsibility and we will do as they say like we’ve done in the past,” said the Indian-born boss.

The European Union has threatened to impose harsher economic sanctions on Russia after 298 people were killed when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 crashed near Donetsk on July 17.

Many of those on board were Dutch citizens.

Western states have blamed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine for downing the passenger plane and some politicians have called for the Formula One race to be cancelled.

Malaysian state oil company Petronas is the title sponsor of the championship-leading Mercedes team while Williams have Dutch human resources multi-national Randstad as a backer.

Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell partners Ferrari who also have a Russian sponsor in software security company Kaspersky Lab.

Marussia are Formula One’s only Russian-registered team while Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat is the country’s only driver on the starting grid.

ECCLESTONE SUPPORTIVE

Formula One’s commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who has resisted similar pressure in the past to cancel the Bahrain Grand Prix over human rights concerns, has said the contract with Russia will not be broken.

“(Russian president Vladimir) Putin personally has been very supportive and very helpful and we will do the same,” British media quoted the 83-year-old as saying this week.

World football’s ruling body FIFA has also said it is committed to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, saying in a statement that any boycott would not be an effective way of reducing tensions in the region.

Formula One teams who have entered the championship are contractually bound to compete in every race, with 19 scheduled this year, and risk exclusion and heavy fines if they do not.

Christian Horner, principal of champions Red Bull and close to Ecclestone, reacted tetchily when facing further questions about the human rights records of some of the countries visited by Formula One.

China and Bahrain are long-standing races on the calendar while Azerbaijan announced on Friday that it would be hosting a ‘Grand Prix of Europe’ in Baku in 2016.

“Look, there is a calendar that comes out in October and November and we all have a choice whether we enter the world championship or not,” Horner replied.

“When we sign up for that championship we put our faith and trust in the promoter and the FIA and we will attend those races unless they deem it unnecessary for us to be there.”

Rights groups accuse the authorities in the former Soviet republic of muzzling dissent and jailing opponents, charges the government denies.

Horner criticised reporters for what he said was “becoming a very depressing press conference where we’re focussed on the negativities” and said it was wrong to make Formula One a political subject.

“We are a sport, we should be talking about the drivers in these conferences, about the spectacular racing between our drivers,” he added.

“If you’ve got these questions then please point them at Mr Todt (the FIA president) or Mr Ecclestone rather than the teams.”

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal

Two years after leaving Stamford Bridge on a high after his heroics helped them win the Champions League, the emotional pull of reuniting with manager Jose Mourinho proved too great a draw for the Ivory Coast striker.

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“It was an easy decision – I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work with Jose again,” the 36-year-old told the club website (南宁夜网.chelseafc广西桑拿,).

“Everyone knows the special relationship I have with this club and it has always felt like home to me.”Drogba’s last appearance for Chelsea came in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, where he almost single-handedly clinched the trophy for the London club, scoring the winning penalty in the shootout after powering home a header to force extra time.

It seemed a fitting way to end his eight-year spell at Stamford Bridge where his dynamic game, combining power and pace, almost reinvented the traditional target-man role.

Drogba joined the Blues from Olympique Marseille for 24 million pounds ($40.8 million) in 2004, at the start of Mourinho’s first spell in charge, and scored 157 goals in 342 appearances, hoovering up silverware along the way.

He won three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups as well as the Champions League before leaving in 2012.

IMMOVABLE IVORIAN

While Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich seemed determined to bring more glamorous centre forwards to the club, with Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres all arriving with lofty reputations, the Ivorian proved immovable.

He remains their record scorer in European competition with 34 goals while his nine strikes in nine cup finals is also a record.

When he left Stamford Bridge two years ago to play for Shanghai Shenhua in China, many thought his career was on the wane with his performances in that final season fluctuating between brilliant and largely ineffective.

Mourinho has decided to bring him back, however, after a successful year in Turkey playing for Galatasaray that showed he still had something to offer at the highest level.

The Portuguese predicted in March, when Galatasaray played Chelsea in the Champions League, that Drogba would one day return to the Chelsea family and said on Friday that there was no emotion or sentiment involved in the decision.

“He’s coming because he’s one of the best strikers in Europe,” Mourinho said.

“I know his personality very well and I know if he comes back he’s not protected by history or what he’s done for this club previously. He is coming with the mentality to make more history.”

(Reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by Ed Osmond)