By VeloNews Interactive
America’s top cycling talent competes this week for a chance to representthe United States at the Olympic Games. Three athletes will earn that privilege in Redlands, Calif. at the PoolGel USCF Elite National Championships and Team USA Selection Race.This year the U.S. will be sending five men and three women to Athens to compete in road cycling. To earn a spot on that squad, it’s quite simple: Win in Redlands and a trip to Athens will follow in August. One of those five spots for the men’s team, and two for the women, will result from this week’s competition in Southern California.The winner of Thursday’s elite women’s time trial and Saturday’s elitewomen’s road race will earn nominations to the Olympic team. The winner of Saturday’s Team USA Selection Race will join automatic nominees Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton and other top American pros in Athens.In addition to national championships being awarded in the elite women’s time trial and road race events, national titles will also be on the line in the elite men’s road race on June 16, and the elite men’s time trialon June 17.
Also included on the schedule are two junior races, one road race and one time trial, which will contribute to the selection of the junior worldchampionship team that will represent the U.S later this year at the UCIRoad World Championships in Verona, Italy. The junior races are part ofa series of events throughout the year that are used in the selection process.Men’s Team USA Selection Road Race
Ask most anybody and they will say the hands down favorite is ChrisHorner (Webcor Builders). Horner is a four-time winner of the RedlandsBicycle Classic and is familiar with and successful on the roads that surround the community. A former European pro and now team leader of the Webcor team, Horner has already won this year’s Redlands Classic as well as the Sea Otter Classic and the grueling Housatonic Valley Classic, a similar one-day event to that of the Team USA Selection Race. When he wasn’t winningraces, he was still on the podium, as the Tour de Georgia, where he placedthird behind Tour winner Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal Service-Berry Floor)and top European pro, Jens Voigt (CSC).The current depth of the U.S. field will present a challenge for Horneras riders like current USPRO Champion, Fred Rodriguez (Acqua & Sapone)and 2003 USPRO Champion, Mark McCormack (Colavita Olive Oil) will mounta formidable challenge. Other riders looking to gain a spot on the U.S.Olympic Team through a victory at the Team USA Selection race include TimJohnson (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Will Frischkorn (Colavita Olive Oil), TrentKlasna (Sierra Nevada), Damon Kluck (U.S. Postal Service-Berry Floor),John Lieswyn (Health Net-Maxxis), Patrick McCarty (U.S. Postal Service-BerryFloor), Danny Pate (Health Net-Maxxis), Chris Wherry (Health Net-Maxxis),Mike Creed (U.S. Postal Service-Berry Floor) Jason McCartney (Health Net-Maxxis),Kirk O’Bee (Navigators Insurance), Chris Baldwin (Navigators Insurance),Scott Moninger (Health Net-Maxxis), and Dave Zabriskie (U.S. Postal Service-BerryFloor).Ask Lieswyn, and he’ll tell you he feels Rodriguez, winner of a sprintstage at last month’s Giro d’Italia against Italian Alessandro Petacchi(Fassa Bortolo) deserves a spot on the squad for the relatively flat Athenscourse.“I kind of wish Fred Rodriguez had been nominated already,” Lieswynsaid, “because I feel like we should be fronting that guy at the Olympics.If one of us [Health Net-Maxxis riders] can’t win it, I hope he does, becausethe U.S. needs to have that guy on the start line in Athens. At the sametime, if I win the [Olympic Selection race], I ain’t giving up my spot.”
The unpredictability of a one-day road race means that the chase foran Olympic nomination is essentially wide open, even though favorites mayexist. And given the current depth of the field in America, the chancesof another rider challenging for the win are equally as likely.The winner of the men’s Team USA Selection race will join four otherson the men’s Olympic road cycling squad. Although those four are not officiallydetermined until later this summer, strong candidates to fill those positionsbased on early season performances are Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton (Phonak),Bobby Julich (CSC) and George Hincapie (U.S. Postal Service-Berry Floor).These four have already met qualification criteria, and if the teamwere selected today, would make up the remainder of the team along withthe winner of the Team USA Selection Race.Women’s Time Trial
In the women’s time trial, Kimberly Bruckner (T-Mobile), is one ofmany overwhelming favorites. Bruckner is currently the three-time defendingUSCF National Time Trial Champion and has been one of the most consistentand accomplished time trialists among American women over the past fewyears. Bruckner’s T-Mobile teammate Dede Barry most recently won the timetrial at the Tour de l’Aude, a major international stage race that manyEuropean countries factored into their Olympic selection. Also, 2003 PanAmerican Games bronze medalist in the time trial, Kristin Armstrong (T-Mobile)has seen her career steadily improve and a spot on the Olympic team isthe next logical step in her progression.Olympic silver medalist and World Champion in 2000, Mari Holden (T-Mobile)has also enjoyed a strong season thus far as has teammate Amber Neben,and both should also contend for the win in Thursday’s time trial. KatrinaBerger (RONA) is also an accomplished rider who could play the role ofspoiler.Women’s Road Race
As opposed to the time trial, a one-day road race is more unpredictableand involves team tactics that factor into the outcome of the race. Andalthough the riders above must also be considered heavy favorites in theroad race, a few others have as good of a chance in the road race. TinaPic (Genesis Scuba) is arguably the best sprinter in the women’s pelotontoday. If she makes the final selection of riders and the finish comesdown to a sprint, a win is well within her reach.Christine Thorburn (Webcor Builders) made a name for herself on theinternational stage last year as a member of the U.S. National Team thatcompeted at the World Championships. Since then, she has been one of themost successful riders on the American circuit routinely placing on thepodium in America’s biggest races. Former USCF National Road Champion,Jessica Phillips (Nurnberger) is also on the list of favorites. Phillipsleft the American scene late in 2003 to ride professionally for the GermanNurnberger team and has spent the 2004 season racing amongst the world’sbest riders on the European circuit.