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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Armstrong, prepping for Tour, helps Livestrong win 12 Hours of Snowmass

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. -- Lance Armstrong charged up Fanny Hill on his mountain bike as if this were the Pyrenees.

This, however, was the inaugural 12 Hours of Snowmass race. But if Armstrong has his way it won't be too long before he's in the Pyrenees again, bidding for an eighth Tour de France crown.

Armstrong recently announced his intention of riding in the Tour in 2009. The 36-year-old cancer survivor is gearing up with races such as this steep ascent.

"We're just getting it going now," said Chris Carmichael, Armstrong's longtime coach. "For the next few months, it's just about riding, spending as much time on the bike as he can."

Armstrong was part of a three-man squad Sunday -- named Team Livestrong after his foundation -- that also included Max Taam and Len Zanni. Each takes a lap and then switches off. The winning team completes the most laps in 12 hours.

Team Livestrong won over Team Beaver Creek with both teams completing 17 laps, but Livestrong finished 6 minutes, 39 seconds faster.

"The first half, I had fun. The second half, it started to be not fun," Armstrong said with a grin.

Carmichael said Armstrong is coming back after careful consideration. His competitive fire began to return after a mountain bike race in Leadville, Colo., last month.

"He fell in love with bike racing again," Carmichael said. "This is the life he knows, the world he knows."

Can he win an eighth title?

"I wouldn't bet against him," Carmichael said. "There's only one Lance. There's no one who has the intensity, the perseverance, the dedication."

Armstrong said his goal isn't so much about winning an eighth title, but promoting cancer awareness.

"The most important issue is taking the global epidemic of cancer to a much bigger stage," said Armstrong, who turns 37 on Thursday. "The best way to do that is to race the bike all over the world."

Still, the competitor in him wouldn't allow a return if he didn't think he could be a factor -- even if he's been retired for the last three years.

"I still feel healthy enough and fit enough to go and perhaps be competitive," said Armstrong, who recently purchased a house in Aspen. "I can't make any guarantees."

Carmichael said Armstrong has contacted the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency about designing a blood test specifically for him to erase any doubts about doping.

"I know he's clean. He's never doped and never will dope," Carmichael said. "The problem with performances these days -- anytime an athlete does something exceptional, everybody looks at it as suspect. ... If Lance comes back and wins the Tour and has absolute transparency in drug testing and people are then still speculating, they're either ignorant or jealous."

Armstrong doesn't feel like he has to prove anything on the doping front, but taking part in a comprehensive program won't hurt.

"I never cheated," he said. "I'm not going to cheat in '01, I'm not going to cheat in '09, that's not going to change. We'll be able to validate it. We couldn't validate it in '01. You had to try to prove a negative. They said, 'You have something we can't find. You're sneakier, smarter than the other guys.' That's a very hard thing to work against."

Taylor Phinney, fresh off his first Olympics, cheered Armstrong from the side of the mountain trail. He was invited to train with Armstrong for a few days.

"He wanted to take me under his wing, which is super cool for me," Phinney said. "I'm just up here learning as much as I can. He's the godfather of cycling."

Phinney says Armstrong is just what the Tour needs.

"There wasn't anybody who took control and was the clear winner of the Tour," he said. "What Lance did every year, he just destroyed everybody and made it clear that he was the guy. I think he's still got it. I'm excited to see what happens."

Now he just needs to find a team. Last week, cycling journal VeloNews reported on its Web site that Armstrong would compete with the Astana team in the Tour.

But there are no guarantees Astana will race in the 2009 Tour. Race officials kept the team out this year because of previous doping violations.

"It's still getting put together," Carmichael said. "That [Astana] is looking like the best one."

Armstrong was second to Jay Henry of Team Beaver Creek on his first run through the course Sunday.

Afterward, he sat down for a brief break, a crowd gathering to snap photos. He then hopped up, got back on his bike and coasted back to his hotel to rest up for his next turn.

That was a familiar theme for Armstrong, who used the hotel breaks to rest, watch some football and munch on Nutella and banana sandwiches.

Armstrong arrived in Snowmass Village on Saturday after spending time in Canada as part of a cancer fundraising ride.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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AFRICA + WITCHCRAFT + SOCCER = 11 DEAD

Well, this was predictable: a soccer game in Congo was interrupted when one team’s goalie began practicing witchcraft on the field, yadda yadda, eleven people died.

Nyuki club was losing to local rivals Socozaki on Sunday when Nyuki’s goalkeeper advanced up the pitch and tried to use “fetishist” spells to turn the tide of the match, Okapi said, without giving more details.

When a police commander tried to break up an ensuing brawl between rival players, members of the crowd pelted him with rocks, the radio added. Police fired teargas in response, causing a stampede to the exits in which 11 people were killed and several injured, Okapi said.

All in all, you’d have to call that a success for Africa. Any time you can get thousands of people in the Congo into one stadium and only eleven people die — that’s pretty impressive. Sure, the police fired tear gas at people. But at least they kept the lions out.

Asked for his feelings after the game, the goalkeeper said, “Ooh ee, ooh ah ah. Ting, tang, walla walla bing bang.” A stirring commentary of our times.

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USC stays on top as Oklahoma moves past Georgia into No. 2 spot

NEW YORK -- Southern California is now a no-doubt-about-it No. 1 in the AP Top 25, and there's a new No. 2 as Georgia slipped again.

Poll Positions

The top five teams in The Associated Press poll:

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2.
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For complete AP and USA Today polls, click here.

The Trojans' resounding 35-3 victory against Ohio State on Saturday night made USC an overwhelming No. 1 in the media poll. USC received 61 first-place votes and 1,596 points on Sunday. The Trojans had 33 first-place votes last week.

Oklahoma moved past Georgia into No. 2. The Bulldogs barely got past South Carolina 14-7 on Saturday and the Sooners notched their third consecutive blowout victory, winning 55-14 at Washington.

Georgia is the first preseason No. 1 to drop that far after starting 3-0 since Oklahoma in 1985. The Sooners also fell to No. 3 after winning their first three games.

"I'm really not worried about it," Georgia coach Mark Richt told reporters, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We can't control it. We can control trying to win the Eastern Division. You can control whatever game you're playing. We want to win every game we can and put ourselves in position to possibly be there in the end. But so much time has to pass. So many games have to be played."

The Bulldogs received two first-place votes this week. No. 4 Florida received the other first-place vote and Missouri moved up a spot to No. 5.

Ohio State dropped eight spots to No. 13.

No. 6 was LSU, followed by Texas, Wisconsin, Alabama and Auburn. Half the top 10 teams are from the Southeastern Conference.

Two Pac-10 teams dropped out of the rankings after losing: California and Arizona State.

Clemson moved back into the rankings. The Tigers started the season ranked ninth and fell all the way out after losing their opener 34-10 to Alabama, and returned as No. 23.

Florida State also moved into the Top 25 for the first time since the middle of last season. The Seminoles were No. 24.

Texas Tech is No. 11, followed by South Florida, Ohio State, BYU and East Carolina, which slipped one spot to No. 15 after squeaking past Tulane 28-24 in its first game as a ranked team since 1999.

Penn State was No. 16 and Oregon was 17th, followed by Wake Forest, Kansas and Utah.

The final five were West Virginia, Illinois, Clemson, Florida State and Fresno State, which lost 13-10 to Wisconsin.

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Brewers fire manager Yost in midst of playoff race


By CHRIS JENKINS, AP Sports Writer

MILWAUKEE (AP)—Firing the manager of a skidding playoff contender with only 12 games left in the regular season is unprecedented in baseball. It’s the front-office equivalent of a suicide squeeze play.

But Milwaukee Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio insists that replacing manager Ned Yost with third-base coach Dale Sveum wasn’t desperate or rash.

“Whatever it looks like from the outside, nothing we do is rash,” Attanasio said Monday. “It’s all reasoned and thoughtful, and I believe always in the best interest of the Milwaukee Brewers. We don’t give any thought to what it looks like to third parties because we know that our process works.”

It certainly hasn’t worked this month. Yost’s firing comes in the wake of a late-season slide that has jeopardized the team’s chance of making the playoffs for the first time since 1982.

Milwaukee went into September with a 5 1/2 -game lead in the NL wild-card race, but has lost 11 of 14 games this month and went into this week tied with Philadelphia for the wild-card lead.

“Something obviously went wrong the last two weeks,” Sveum said. “We’re just trying to send a shock wave through this team and get them going for 12 days and through the playoffs.”

It marked the first time in major league history—except the strike-split 1981 season—that a manager was fired in August or later with his team in playoff position, the Elias Sports Bureau said.

Speaking at a news conference in Chicago on Monday evening, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin made it clear that he wasn’t trying to make a scapegoat out of Yost. Melvin said Yost has been “knocking his brains out” to figure out what was wrong.

The Brewers arrived in Chicago early Monday for an upcoming series with the Cubs. By 7 a.m., Yost was wandering the streets with a cup of coffee and trying to figure out what was wrong. He didn’t come up with any new answers.

“It does seem odd to let someone go when he has given his heart and his soul to the organization, but we didn’t have any option at this point,” Melvin said. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

Yost did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone by The Associated Press. He is scheduled to speak to reporters on a conference call Tuesday morning.

Sveum wasn’t sure how players would react to the sudden change. But he didn’t seem to mind if they’re a little bit shocked and said he didn’t consider winning them over to be a goal.

“I’m a very straightforward person, probably sometimes too brutally honest,” Sveum said. “That gets in my way some times and it benefits me sometimes.”

Sveum’s tone was a departure from Yost, whose stubborn refusal to abandon or criticize young players during prolonged slumps likely helped their long-term development but made him a lightning rod with some fans.

“Ned was always terribly loyal to his players, and it didn’t always come back, unfortunately, in the other direction,” Attanasio said.

The decision to fire Yost was portrayed as a mutual agreement between Melvin and Attanasio that was finalized in a meeting Monday morning. But Melvin expressed some doubt.

“(Yost) didn’t have all the answers for what is going on the last two weeks and I’m not sure I have all the answers,” Melvin said. “I’m not sure this is the right one, either.”

Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio talks to reporters about the firing of manager Ned Yost, during a news conference in Chicago, Monday, Sept. 15, 2008.
Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark A…
AP - Sep 15, 9:56 pm EDT

Members of NL Central rivals Chicago and Houston expressed surprise. They played another neutral-site game in Milwaukee on Monday after Hurricane Ike made it too difficult to play their scheduled series in Houston over the weekend.

“That was a shocker,” Astros owner Drayton McLane said. “Has a team ever done that at this point of the season this close to the playoffs?”

During the rejiggered 1981 season, the Montreal Expos fired future Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams in early September. The Expos went 16-11 under Jim Fanning to win the second-half title and make the playoffs.

In 1983, Philadelphia fired Pat Corrales in early July when it was in first place with a 43-42 record. Under Paul Owens, the Phillies reached the World Series.

In 1982, the Brewers fired manager Buck Rodgers after a 23-24 start. Popular Harvey Kuenn took over and his “Harvey’s Wallbangers” went to the World Series.

“It was a big surprise to me,” said Astros infielder Mark Loretta, formerly of the Brewers. “It makes you wonder who really made that decision.”

Dale Sveum, who was named interim manager of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team, talks to reporters about the firing of manager Ned Yost, during a news conference in Chicago on Monday, Sept. 15, 2008.
Dale Sveum, who was named inte…
AP - Sep 15, 9:53 pm EDT

Cubs manager Lou Piniella called Yost a “good baseball man” who was likely to get an opportunity to manage elsewhere.

Brewers bench coach Ted Simmons, considered by many to be a potential successor if Yost got fired, instead was reassigned to an “advisory role.” Sveum immediately hired Brewers’ Hall of Famer Robin Yount, a close friend and former teammate, to be his bench coach. Garth Iorg will coach third base.

By shaking up its on-field leadership, Milwaukee is hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s collapse. The Brewers held an 8 1/2 -game division lead in late June but slid to 83-79 and missed the playoffs.

The Brewers came into 2008 with even higher hopes, and received a major boost when they made a trade with Cleveland for ace CC Sabathia in July. The reigning AL Cy Young winner is 9-0 in 13 starts with six complete games and a 1.59 ERA.

But little else—not the other starters, the shaky bullpen or a home run-happy offense that has gone colder than a Wisconsin winter—is working for Milwaukee these days.

“He’s taken us home 95 percent of the way,” Melvin said of Yost. “It’s the players’ job, and they have the biggest responsibility to get this thing together with 12 games left.”

AP Sports Writers Colin Fly in Milwaukee and Rick Gano in Chicago contributed to this report.

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