By Andrew Hood
Earning a ticket to the Olympic Games is always a tense and nervous experience for any athlete, but two already have their boarding passes for Beijing thanks to strong performances this season.
On the road team, Kristin Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer have already locked up berths for next summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing.
According to Andy Lee at USA Cycling, Leipheimer qualified thanks to his third-place overall and stage win at the Tour de France while Armstrong is in after scoring a silver medal at the Stuttgart world championships in September.
For Leipheimer, the 34-year-old says making a run for an Olympic medal is one of his top goals in what will be a busy and intense 2008 campaign.
“If I were to name three goals, it would be to defend at Tour of California, the Tour and the Olympics,” Leipheimer told VeloNews. This will be Leipheimer’s second Olympics after he was named to the 2004 team when Lance Armstrong passed on competing.
Leipheimer, who added he’d like to race both the road race and the time trial, said the proximity of the Games to the conclusion of the Tour de France is ideal to try to take advantage of any left-over form to make a run for a medal.
“That’s the great part, (the Olympics) don’t require any special training. It’s two weeks after the Tour. I will ride the Tour and rest and take care of myself,” he continued. “That’s what makes it so appealing. Both (road and time trial) courses are tough. I might try to go (to Beijing) in December to check out the courses.”
For Armstrong, the secured berth will allow her to prepare to the maximum for a run at an Olympic medal. Her gold medal in the 2006 road cycling world championship and her silver this year in Stuttgart put her among the favorites for U.S. cyclists looking to strike gold in China.
The remainder of the spots will be up for grabs based on results and criteria going into the 2008 season.
For the men’s side, the U.S. team will boast the maximum that’s allowed with five road slots and two time trial starts. The women’s road spots won’t be known until May 31.
Track will found out its number of allotted spots March 31 while BMX will confirm on May 31 as well. On the mountain bike side, it looks likely the men’s team will earn two berths.
Bettini dreams of Roubaix, questions ‘passport’
Two-time reigning world champ Paolo Bettini is throwing down some personal challenges for what will likely be his final season as a pro.
In addition to defending his Olympic title in China and his world title in Italy, Bettini said he still has some unfinished business with the cobblestones of northern France, saying “I can’t imagine retiring without racing Paris-Roubaix.”
“I will begin my preparation in earnest in December like any other year and we will get together as a team,” he said. “I will have to defend the two titles within barely a month a month, with the Olympic title in August and the road title in Italy in September.”
Bettini is never one to keep to niceties and quickly blasted UCI’s plans to introduce a “biological passport” that will help track athletes’ blood levels and other indicators that could reveal manipulation.
Bettini said it’s an idea that’s already been in place and used since the late 1990s, adding, “I don’t know; do they want us to give a piece of our livers, too?” Transfers: Jufre to SD, Zabel stays put
Much to the chagrin of Tour de France contender Cadel Evans, Spanish climber Josep Jufré has penned a two-year deal to join Spanish outfit Saunier Duval-Prodir for the 2008 season.
Jufre was one of Evans’ key support riders in the mountains at Predictor-Lotto, but the Belgian team didn’t re-up his contract and let the Spanish rider go to rival Saunier Duval.
Jufre’s arrival also closes out the lineup for Saunier Duval for the 2008 season, which will enter next year with one spot open for beleaguered Iban Mayo if he can shake allegations that he used EPO during this year’s Tour.
In Germany, star sprinter Erik Zabel ended speculation that he might return to T-Mobile by confirming his intention of finishing out his contract for 2008 with Milram.
“The new season is a huge challenge for our team and I am glad to have committed,” said Zabel.
The 37-year-old, who won the Tour de France’s green jersey for the points classification a record six times, had been tipped for a return to T-Mobile after his spell with the team formerly known as Telekom between 1993 and 2005.