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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
On a steamy, cloudless Thursday in Southern California, David Zabriskie and Christine Thorburn each grabbed time trial wins at the Pool Gel USCF National Road Championships. Besides the stars-and-stripes jersey, Thorburn also earned an automatic berth on the U.S Olympic team, which will compete in Greece in August.
“I’m very surprised,” admitted Thorburn (Webcor) of a win that came at the expense of the heavily favored T-Mobile team. “I didn’t even do the time trial last year because I didn’t have the right equipment.”
That changed in the offseason when Thorburn and her team director, 1994 world time trial champion Karen Brems, decided to target this race. Brems had Dave Tiemeyer design a custom bike for Thorburn and the two went to work. Tiemeyer also built the bikes that Brems raced on in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
“I think we always looked at her as a longshot,” said Brems. “But [the T-Mobile] girls had so much pressure on them. Being the favorite is hard.”
Indeed, coming into the TT, nearly everyone assumed this year would be a repeat of last, when T-Mobile — which is essentially the U.S. national team — swept the top 5 spots of the national’s time trial podium.
“This is a huge disappointment,” said T-Mobile’s Kimberly Bruckner, the three-time defending national TT champion, who settled for fifth this time around. “This had been my goal all year. I’m in a bit of shock right now.”
The time trial took place in Moreno Valley, about an hour drive from event headquarters in Redlands. The course was a 15-mile, out-and-back circuit with 1177 feet of climbing per lap. The women did one lap, while the men tackled two.
Riders took off from Moreno Beach Drive, just off State Highway 60. After a brief ascent out of the gate, the first 3km were mostly flat, before the opening climb at the intersection of Cottonwood Avenue and Redlands Boulevard. The surrounding landscape, typical of the Inland Empire, was barren and brown with little shade to shield riders from temperatures that rose into the high 80s.
After another flat section, came the course’s toughest test, a punchy ascent on the road that borders the Lake Perris State Recreation Area. The riders then hit the turn around and had to do it all over again.
“It was a hard course because there was a lot of climbing,” explained the 34-year-old Thorburn, who is a doctor of rheumatology when she’s not racing bikes. “It wasn’t that technical, though, and that was good for me. I think I lost a lot of time in the corners, so that’s something I need to work on before August.”
Despite not getting what they came for, T-Mobile still placed five riders in the top six, with Amber Neben taking second, eight seconds behind Thorburn’s winning mark of 34:16. Dede Barry, who has already locked up an Olympic berth, ended up third, at 0:10. Kristin Armstrong was fourth, with Bruckner fifth, and 2000 Olympic silver medalist Mari Holden sixth.
The pressure is now even greater on the T-Mobile squad, as they’ll have to put aside at least some of their individual aspirations to make sure there is not a repeat of Thursday’s disappointment come Saturday’s selection race for the final spot on the three-rider Olympic team.
“We really need to come together,” said Armstrong, who was visibly upset after the time trial. “There are a lot of different goals, but we need to make sure we work as a team.”
The men’s TT was not an Olympic selection event, but it did crown Zabriskie as the 2004 national champion. It was his third stars-and-stripes win, the other two coming in the junior and U23 ranks.
“I knew I was one of the favorites, but I was still pretty nervous,” said the 25-year-old Zabriskie, who’s in his fourth year with U.S. Postal-Berry Floor. “It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten lucky.”
Indeed, during the last 13 months Zabriskie has endured two ugly crashes. First, a car hit him during a training ride in Utah in May of 2003, leaving him with a broken leg and wrist. Then he went down in a big pileup at the Redlands Classic this past March and had to be airlifted off the course with a severe concussion and multiple lacerations.
“The hardest thing about coming back was the mental part,” Zabriskie conceded. “Body parts heal but it can take the mind awhile to overcome stuff like that.”
Clearly Zabriskie was mentally — and physically — fit on this day. He was the only rider to go under 32 minutes at the halfway mark of the 30-mile effort (31:18), and his winning mark of 1:03:11 was 2:16 faster than John Lieswyn (Health Net-Maxxis). Seattle-based amateur Kenny Williams took a surprising third, at 2:46, while defending national TT champ Chris Baldwin (Navigators) was fourth, and Adam Bergman (Jelly Belly-Aramark) was fifth.
“Kind of a bad day for the family,” lamented Baldwin, who is married to T-Mobile’s Bruckner. “I never ride well in the heat and it was hot out there. I probably went out a little fast, too, but either way David just devastated this course. No one was beating him.”
Racing in Southern California takes a day off on Friday, before concluding with the men’s and women’s road races. Both contests will serve to fill out the final spots on the U.S. Olympic road team. The women’s race will also crown the U.S. national champion. Check back Saturday afternoon for a full report, results and photos.
— Chris Horner was among several no shows at Thursday’s time trial. It’s possible Horner and his Webcor crew are saving themselves for Saturday, as teammates Ted Huang and Ben Haldeman were absent as well. Health Net’s Danny Pate was also a no show. A staff member said Pate was sick but would start Saturday’s selection race.
— After placing second in the time trial, John Lieswyn hinted that this would be his last year racing professionally. “This was probably my last chance at winning the national title,” he said. “It’s not 100 percent, but I’m pretty much done.”
— Kenny Williams was one of many surprises on the day, after the 37-year-old took third in the men’s time trial. Williams spends most of his time on the track (4km pursuit is his specialty), but said he took about a six-week break to get ready for the race in Moreno Valley. “I did more mileage and less speed work,” he explained. “The only time trials I’d done were a lot shorter than this, though. I had no idea I could get a result in a [30-mile] race.”
Williams, whose First Rate Mortgage team focuses primarily on master’s races, is a busy guy. Besides racing, he works as a sponsorship coordinator for components maker FSA, teaches spin classes, and is a personal trainer. “I’ve been getting a lot of flack for not spending enough time with the family,” said Williams, who’s engaged. “Maybe I’ll get a little slack for making the podium.”
— With the ever-present haze of SoCal smog hanging over Thursday’s race, several riders took shots at the less-than blue skies overhead.
“I couldn’t breath at the end,” said Lieswyn. “This place is a little smoggy. Maybe that’s why [Horner] didn’t show today. You get this shit in your lungs and you can’t breath. I’ll be hacking up a lung tomorrow.”
Added Zabriskie: “I came down a little early to adapt to the pollution. Hopefully some of this nice brown air will get blown out before Saturday.”
— In the junior men’s time trial it was 17-year-old Adam Switter (Lombardi Sports) outpacing Chris Stockburger by 29 seconds. Switter, who’s from Folsom, California, posted a day’s best 33:25 on the 15-mile circuit. Zach Taylor (Hot Tubes) placed third a day after winning the road race back in Redlands. Both events carry points that will be used in the selection of the juniors that will represent the U.S. at the world road championships in Verona, Italy, this fall.
POOL GEL USCF NATIONAL ROAD CHAMPIONSHIPS;
REDLANDS, CA. JUNE 16-19;
MEN: 1. David Zabriskie, U.S. Postal-Berry Floor, 30 miles in 1:03:11; 2. John Lieswyn, Health Net-Maxxis, 1:05:27; 3. Kenny Williams, First Rate Mortgage, 1:05:57; 4. Chris Baldwin, Navigators, 1:06:01; 5. Adam Bergman, Jelly Belly-Aramark, 1:06:31; 6. Chris Wherry, Health Net-Maxxis, 1:06:36; 7. Jason McCartney, Health Net-Maxxis, 1:06:46; 8. Ben Jacques-Maynes, Sierra Nevada, 1:07:10; 9. Phil Zajicek, Navigators, 1:07:45; 10. Antonio Cruz, U.S. Postal-Berry Floor, 1:07:45
WOMEN:1. Christine Thorburn, Webcor, 15 miles in 34:16; 2. Amber Neben, T-Mobile, 34:24; 3. Dede Barry, T-Mobile, 34:26; 4. Kristin Armstrong, T-Mobile, 34:37; 5. Kimberly Bruckner, T-Mobile, 34:47; 6. Mari Holden, T-Mobile, 35:12; 7. Katrina Grove, Rona, 35:32; 8. Candice Blickem, Genesis Scuba, 35:45; 9. Heather Albert, Basis Aude, 36:04; 10. Jessica Phillips, Nurnberger, 36:17
JUNIOR MEN: 1. Adam Switter, Lombardi Sports 15 miles in 33:25; 2. Chris Stockburger, Rio Grande, 33:54; 3. Zach Taylor, Hot Tubes, 33:57; 4. Zach Bolian, Hot Tubes, 34:25; 5. Mike Sheppard, Major Motion, 34:26; 6. Taylor Lane, Rio Grande, 34:36; 7. Peter Stetina, TIAA-Cref, 34:39; 8. Nick Frey, Hot Tubes, 34:44; 9. Alex Welch, Power Train, 34:52; 10. Spencer Beamer, Hot Tubes, 35:08