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McDonough optimistic ahead of track

“Lean and mean” is the mantra at USA Cycling ahead of the debut of five days of track cycling competition Friday at the Laoshan Velodrome. The eight-athlete team hits the boards in nine events with realistic hopes of striking gold on the women’s side and ambitions of playing the spoiler on the men’s side. “Overall, we’re saying, let’s hold the bar very high, but let’s aim for something that’s realistic,” said USA Cycling team leader Pat McDonough before the team’s final training session Thursday at the velodrome.

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Phinney is the U.S. team's wild card hope.

Phinney is the U.S. team’s wild card hope.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

“Lean and mean” is the mantra at USA Cycling ahead of the debut of five days of track cycling competition Friday at the Laoshan Velodrome.

The eight-athlete team hits the boards in nine events with realistic hopes of striking gold on the women’s side and ambitions of playing the spoiler on the men’s side.

“Overall, we’re saying, let’s hold the bar very high, but let’s aim for something that’s realistic,” said USA Cycling team leader Pat McDonough before the team’s final training session Thursday at the velodrome.

The team was a bundle of nervous energy and excitement Thursday as they went through the paces of their last training session on the Olympic boards.

The entire team and staff posed for a picture in front of the medal’s podium. They were all quietly hoping of getting some quality views from on high in the coming days of racing.

For McDonough, who knows something about Olympic glory after scoring silver in the team pursuit in the Los Angeles 1984 Games, it all comes down to execution.

A former world champion Hammer is a big hope for a medal.

A former world champion Hammer is a big hope for a medal.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

The team’s best hopes lie with two-time individual pursuit world champion Sarah Hammer and reigning Keirin world champ Jennie Reed, who will be competing in the sprint because the Keirin is not an Olympic event for women.

“Both Sarah and Jennie are definite medal contenders,” McDonough said. “They’ve already proven that with medals at the world championships. We can count on them to be in the hunt for medals.”

Reed will have to bet everything on the women’s sprint. She earned a confidence boosting first-ever world championship medal in the sprint with bronze behind gold medalist and favorite Victoria Pendleton.

Reed earned a confidence boosting first-ever world championship medal in the sprint.

Reed earned a confidence boosting first-ever world championship medal in the sprint.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Hammer will face a tough challenge in the individual pursuit against arch-rival Rebecca Romero. The Brit is already an Olympic medalist, winning silver in the quadruple skulls rowing event in Athens 2004.

Romero switched to the track in 2005 and quickly became a force in the pursuit. Hammer won back-to-back world titles in 2006-07, but Romero beat her back in Manchester to take gold.

From McDonough’s perspective, Hammer’s defeat at the hands of Romero will only fuel his pupil’s legendary focus and intensity.

“When Rebecca won the worlds, that took a little pressure off Sarah. And it gives a lot of extra motivation for her,” he said. “Hammer’s been extremely consistent in international competition. In the past 10 international events, she’s medaled in nine. She knows what she needs to do. We’re confident she will be in the medal round. She has a history of lifting her came come race day.”

On the men’s side, the team will be looking to play spoilers to established favorites in all events.

Mike Blatchford will compete in the sprint and team sprint

Mike Blatchford will compete in the sprint and team sprint

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Mike Blatchford will compete in the sprint and team sprint (along with Adam Duvendeck and Giddeon Massie), with Massie also racing the Keirin.

Mike Friedman and Bobby Lea will team up for the Madison, with Lea also racing the points race.

“Our team sprint guys are improving. Our first objective is to try to get past qualifying, but everyone knows who the big favorites are,” McDonough said. “The Madison guys have both had success at the World Cup level. The good thing with them is that they’ve been riding together for a long time. They’ve known each other since they were kids. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

Finally, there’s Taylor Phinney. Son of Olympic medalists Davis and Connie Carpenter-Phinney, Taylor was buzzing around the track with calm confidence that betrays his 18 years.

If Phinney can make it into the final eight after the first qualifying round in the individual pursuit, McDonough isn’t discounting a medal.

Phinney regularly sets personal marks in practice.

Phinney regularly sets personal marks in practice.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

“He’s been riding well. Every day he seems to be setting a new PR,” he said. “It’s obvious he’s a fabulous talent. What we’re trying to do is to get everyone to remember that he’s here competing against professionals and that he only graduated from high school six weeks ago.”

Whether Phinney and the rest of the track team can deliver medals remains to be seen.

What’s sure is that success on the road side – with a gold medal by Kristin Armstrong and bronze by Levi Leipheimer – only fuels hopes for the trackies.

“We had a very good day (Wednesday), with a gold and a bronze. Any time you have that kind of success on the team, it helps everybody,” he said. “It helps the staff, it helps the athletes. Now we turn our focus to the track. It’s the Olympics – anything can happen.”

USA Cycling Olympic track team and events:
? Mike Blatchford: sprint and team sprint
? Adam Duvendeck: team sprint
? Mike Friedman: Madison
? Bobby Lea: Points, Madison
? Giddeon Massie: Keirin, team sprint
? Taylor Phinney: Individual pursuit
? Sarah Hammer: Individual pursuit, points
? Jennie Reed: Sprint

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