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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
Following two off days for the cycling events here at the Olympics in Athens, the men’s and women’s time trials are up next at Vouliagmeni Olympic Center. The 25-rider women’s field will kick things off at 1 p.m. local time on Wednesday, followed by 40 men at 3 p.m.
The 24km-course starts on Athinas Avenue in front of the Vouliagmeni city hall, then heads down the coastal road to the turnaround at the Agia Marina. Wind will be a major factor in the race, which lacks any serious climbs but has several tough false flats.
“The wind was really whipping [on Monday] and even today it’s blowing pretty hard,” said American Dede Barry who along with Christine Thorburn will represent the U.S. in the women’s race. “It’s not a real technical course, but one minute you’ll have a tailwind and the next it’s in your face.”
Following Sunday’s road race, the U.S. road team moved out of the Olympic Village and into a hotel near the TT course, which is south of the city center along Saronic Gulf.
“It was great being in the village, it was a great atmosphere,” Barry said. “But it’s nice to be a little quieter environment. Plus the beach is right across the street from our hotel, so hopefully we’ll get a chance to go down there after the race.”
Among the favorites on the women’s side will be reigning world TT champion Joane Somarriba of Spain, Switzerland’s Karin Thuerig, German Judith Arndt, and 2000 Olympic time trial winner Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel.
Zijlaard-van Moorsel was involved in a nasty crash during the later half of the women’s road race on Sunday, but has recovered enough to attempt the defense of her Olympic title.
“I slept good last night,” she said on the eve of the race. “I just hope that my legs are good. I still have pain everywhere, but it’s not as bad as it was before. I rested all day yesterday and will only do one lap [Tuesday].”
On the men’s side, Jan Ullrich has garnered the favorite tag, but the German isn’t so sure he’s the man to beat.
“It’s not easy,” said Ullrich who won the TT silver in Sydney. “There are a lot of specialists here who have prepared very well. You can’t compare this with a time trial in the Tour de France.”
The other top contenders in the men’s race include 2000 Olympic time trial gold medalist Viatcheslav Ekimov (Russia), Auissie Michael Rogers, and American Tyler Hamilton, who will be the second to last rider out of the starthouse just ahead or Ullrich.
“I think I might be able to pull something,” said Hamilton after Saturday’s road race. “I felt better than I thought I would today, so hopefully it will keep going that way.”
Other North Americans slated to start the time trial are Canadians Eric Wohlberg, Lyne Bessette and Sue Palmer-Komar, and U.S. rider Bobby Julich.
Colombia’s Victor Hugo Peña got a surprise call last week, when he found out that he’d be replacing countryman Santiago Botero here in Athens. But without a whole lot of time to prepare he doesn’t have any great ambitions for the TT.
“I would love to be in the top three of course,” he said. “But that will be difficult with all the specialists that are here.”
Peña also said that after being snubbed from this year’s U.S. Postal Service Tour de France team that he is almost certainly moving on.
“I still don’t know why I wasn’t selected,” he said. “But no, next year I probably won’t be on the new team [Discovery Channel]. Right now I am negotiating with other teams.”