By Gary R. Blockus Of The Morning Call
Coming off the biggest win of his young road career, hometown favorite Marty Nothstein returns to the Lehigh Valley Velodrome in Trexlertown tonight to defend his title in Nestor’s Keirin Cup.
Nothstein has dominated the racing in Nestor’s Keirin Cup like no other rider in history. He has won the event seven times, including three in a row for the second time.
Nothstein, who is seeking to win the event a fourth straight year, is fresh off a win at the second annual New York City Championships, a 100-kilometer criterium race through lower Manhattan.
The Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion powered his way through that course in a blazing time of 2 hours, 5 minutes, averaging slightly faster than 28 mph for the race.
“It was a huge win, not only for me personally but for our Navigators team,” said Nothstein, who noted that Navigators insurance is headquartered in the metropolitan New York City area.
“I’ve been wanting to win a big road race since I made this transition [from track racing], and this proves the transition is complete.”
Or is it?
Nothstein has stated in the past that he wants to get back on the track and qualify for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. He is the defending gold medalist in the match sprint and a two-time finalist after winning a silver medal in the event at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
No cyclist in U.S. history has medaled in three consecutive Olympic Games, and Nothstein would like nothing more than to be the first to do so.
Adding fuel to the rumor mill that he may re-focus on the track for 2004 was the disappointing showing by the U.S. team at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, which concluded last week.
“I saw that coming,” Nothstein said. “I predicted it, and you can quote me on that. When I was a sprinter and Andrzej [Bek] was the coach, we were a powerhouse. We’d walk into the arena, and people were wondering how many medals we would win. Now, guys can’t even qualify for the sprint tournament [as a Top 18 in the time trial]. That’s sad. Absolutely sad.
“There’s absolutely no excuse to go to the World Championships like that as an athlete and not come back with, at the very least, a competitive result. You prepare for it and get the job done. And what’s sadder is that those results didn’t come cheaply. There’s a lot of money spent on the group that went.”
But Nothstein is looking forward to slapping a big gear on his “bicycle with no brakes” to take on the gang that has been training voraciously on the track all summer.
Jame Carney, who has become a crowd favorite the last few years, is coming off a disappointing performance in the scratch race at worlds and is looking forward to making amends, perhaps at Nothstein’s expense tonight.
Australia’s Jeff Hopkins is another top threat to prevent Nothstein from a “four-pete” of the prized Nestor’s Keirin Cup.
“It’s going to be exciting,” agreed velodrome executive director Pat McDonough. “Marty is fresh off establishing himself as a force on the road with his biggest win there, and everyone is talking about rumors that he may come back to the track for 2004.”
Nothstein didn’t want to talk about that possibility earlier this week. He was more content to talk about his performance in New York against some of the best riders in the world, including many of the top Euro-pros.
“Fifty laps with four turns — actually eight turns — with a stretch of cobblestone,” Nothstein said of the course. “They said 120 started and only 42 finished. This was the best guys in the world, invitation only.
“I needed this win, and I surprised a lot of people by the way I did it,” he said. “There was a breakaway group right at the gun, and it was pretty much full gas from the start. On the eighth lap, the breakaway slipped up the road, probably 15 riders, and I was one of the last guys in it. I crossed into the breakaway myself, and then I went to the front to establish a cushion.
“I launched an attack myself, but after about 11/2 laps riding solo, I was bridged by a U.S. Postal rider [one of Lance Armstrong’s teammates]. Another guy joined us, but even in that breakaway I was the strongest of the three of us. We were eventually brought back to the initial breakaway for one final sprint to the finish.”
Nothstein is expecting to give the fans in Trexlertown — and his competitors — a similar view of him crossing the finish line tonight for Nestor’s Keirin Cup.
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