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Talking Olympic selection with USA Cycing’s mountain bike coordinator, Marc Gullickson

Less than five years since he last took the line as an elite bike racer, Marc Gullickson faces a new cycling challenge. As USA Cycling’s newly hired mountain-bike coordinator, “Gully” is charged with helping select the United States’ four-person cross-country team for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

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By Fred Dreier

USA Cycing's mountain bike coordinator, Marc Gullickson.

USA Cycing’s mountain bike coordinator, Marc Gullickson.

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Less than five years since he last took the line as an elite bike racer, Marc Gullickson faces a new cycling challenge. As USA Cycling’s newly hired mountain-bike coordinator, “Gully” is charged with helping select the United States’ four-person cross-country team for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The 2008 UCI world championships in Val di Sole, Italy, is the last of six qualifying races for the six men and five women on the USA Olympic long team. Georgia Gould and Todd Wells will earn two spots based on their three best World Cup finishes from this year. But with no riders having yet met the automatic qualifying criteria — a podium finish at a 2008 World Cup — the final two spots will likely be decided by a coach’s choice.

Gully is that coach. So whom will he pick for Beijing? VeloNews caught up with Gullickson to find out.

VeloNews: So when worlds is over, what’s the process that you must go through to name the team?

Marc Gullickson: Well if someone gets in the top three here, they will hit the automatic criteria, and the team will have picked itself. In essence Todd Wells and Georgia Gould have already qualified based on their three best World Cup races, but we won’t announce that officially until after worlds. If someone is top three, that will make our lives easy. If not, then [USA Cycling athletics director] Pat McDonough and I will sit down and do a big head-to-head spreadsheet on all the riders on the long team and come up with the names. We then have to do a conference call with the actual selection committee and justify our picks. Alison Dunlap is the mountain bike person on that committee, but it’s made up of people whose job it is to follow results. We basically argue it out until we come up with the names.

VN: If you had to pick the team right now, who would you pick and why?

MG: Well if we ended the selection period right now it would be cut-and-dry. The names would be Mary McConneloug and Adam Craig for the discretionary choices. It’s clear to everyone that they are the two [other than Gould and Wells] who have been the most consistent over the course of the 2008 World Cups. They’re on a different level than the others. I mean Jeremy [Horgan-Kobelski] has been riding pretty well but he’s had some bad luck, and that’s part of racing. We don’t take into consideration flat tires and other stuff like that when choosing the squad. We’ve seen some good races and sporadic good results from the other riders on the long team, but Mary and Adam have been consistent.

VN: Could anything short of a podium finish here earn one of the other long team members a spot for the Olympics?

MG: Well that’s the big question. If Adam and Mary have terrible races [on Sunday], if they DNF or are way off the back, and let’s say for example JHK was to step it up and finish fourth or fifth, well then we’d have to have a more in-depth discussion to flush out an answer. I mean fourth place at worlds is really good. Lets say JHK gets fourth and Adam is eighth, well we’d probably go with Adam. If JHK is fourth and Adam is 78th, well then you could make a very decent argument that JHK is more competitive at the moment. Let’s just say it would make for a much longer conference call.

VN: And some serious spread sheeting.

MG: Either way it’s not an easy decision. But from a selection perspective, if the status quo and trends from this year continue will make our choices unquestionable. Obviously I’d like to see all of our riders fighting for a top-three on Sunday. But it is hard to envision a situation where one of the outside picks gets into the top five and Mary and Adam just crumble.

VN: When you took this job were you worried about controversy over Olympic selection, especially after the 2004 selection mess?

MG: Yeah, I mean things didn’t look all that great in 2004 and I was a bit nervous stepping into this situation. Obviously I wish all of our riders were scoring top results, but so far it has been pretty cut-and-dry, and that’s been a relief. In terms of controversy, I don’t see much coming out of this year, which is good for me, because I’m still learning this job and there’s a million other things I’m trying to learn and do.

VN: What have been the challenges of your first year?

MG: Oh just little stuff. Just figuring out what everyone does at USA Cycling and then figuring how I fit into the picture, for example. It’s been really good, [USA Cycling] has been very helpful with letting me run the program. It’s been difficult to come in with the focus having been changed a bit. On a personal level it was a challenge to have to let the U23 guys know that we were changing our direction away from full support. I know there was some feeling that we were pulling the rug out from under them. I think in the future we can see a development program that is more inclusive. The ideal is to have more people and give them more chances to get experience racing in Europe.