By The Associated Press
Cycling was the teen-age Colby Pearce’s therapy. He’d take long weekend rides in the Colorado mountains, a distraction from losing his mother to cancer when he was 8 and his father to a heart attack five years later.
Pearce never stopped riding. Now, nearly two decades later, he’s reached the Olympics as part of a seven-rider American track contingent. Competition at the velodrome opened Friday, with the first U.S. cyclists set to begin competing Saturday.
“Everybody, to a degree, has their childhood wrapped up in them,” Pearce said. “They’re a product of their past. That’s inevitable. I guess I see myself as the type of person who’s integrated the way I had to grow up fast and have that contribute to my feeling of independence and wanting to tackle things on my own.”
Next on Pearce’s to-tackle list? Tuesday’s 160-lap Olympic points race. It’ll be the first Olympic appearance for Pearce, who dabbled on cycling’s road circuits before deciding track riding was his best shot at a medal.
“Colby will be the first to admit he’s not the strongest athlete out there, but he has the right combination of attributes needed to be a great points racer,” said Allen Lim, Pearce’s personal coach. “He’s got the intelligence and the instinct of knowing when to follow the surge. And he’s got the incredible speed you need.”
Coming to Greece two weeks before his race meant sacrificing comforts of home, but the payoff was extra practice time on the Olympic venue – a 250-meter, covered wood surface that’s among the fastest he’s seen. Had he arrived in Athens nearer to his race, he’d have been training on a concrete outdoor track in Colorado.
“I think he’s as good as any of the riders out there,” U.S. endurance track cycling coach Des Dickie said. “But he has to be right on the day of the event.”
Pearce won a points race on the World Cup circuit earlier this year, finished second in another and also won a World Cup gold this season in a scratch race.
He wound up second in the overall World Cup scratch-race series and third overall in the season-long points race standings – results that suggest he has at least a fair chance of becoming the first American cyclist to medal in an Olympic points race.
“I’ve worked toward getting to the Games my whole career, but really, the end goal is to have a good race happen on the day of the Olympics,” said Pearce, a seven-time national champion. “If I go and get 12th or 14th, I’ll be disappointed unless that’s my best ride and that was the result I was going to get.”
Coming off his best World Cup season, Pearce said he benefited from a new foray he’s made – coaching a team of elite young riders, all between the ages of 16 and 22. Pearce splits his time between training and working with Team TIAA-CREF, a national development program sponsored by the financial services company.
“A lot of riders just rely on brute strength,” said TIAA-CREF team director Jonathan Vaughters. “For Colby, it’s all about the work and analysis.”
And Pearce has spent plenty of time doing both since coming to Greece.
He’s up against a who’s-who of points racing, with reigning world champion Franck Perque of France and the top two finishers in the 2000 Olympic points race, Spain’s Joan Llaneras Rosello and Uruguay’s Milton Wynants, among those expected to be in the field.
It’s a challenge Pearce eagerly awaits.
“The bad news there for me is they know what they’re doing,” Pearce said. “The good news is I know what they’re doing, because they have established tactics and patterns.
“I’m not favored, but I think it’s fair to say I’ve got a shot to do something good.”