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August 19/04 5:54 am - Olympics: ITT story


Posted by Editoress on 08/19/04
 

Olympic ITT

After days of arguments between the cycling organization and the UCI over photo access, the Greek organizers suddenly capitulated at the time trial before the men's race. Special thanks to Enrico Carpani at the UCI for working on our behalf to sort this out.

Also a personal thanks to the CBC TV crew who took the time to drive us (myself and U.S. photographer Casey Gibson) down to the start line yesterday, saving us a two hour transfer (and reducing our day to a mere 18 hours instead of 20...).

The course, as has already been described, was an out and back 24 kilometre run along the coast, which the women completed once and the men twice. Wind was expected to be the major obstacle, but rolling climbs, false flats, and the ever present heat also took their toll. The wind was actually less of a factor then it had been earlier in the week, but the riders still faced a crosswind that kept switching the angles it hit them from along the twisting road.

Women

American Christine Thorburn was the earlier leader, and her time held up until her team mate Dede Barry came through a whopping 39 seconds faster with 10 riders to go. Barry would stay in the lead until Leontien Ziljaard-van Moorsel of the Netherlands, the defending champion finished a further staggering 24 seconds ahead of Barry - an average speed of over 46 kilometres an hour. Karin Thuerig (Switzerland) had come in just before Ziljaard-van Moorsel with the third best time so far, and the final two riders, Judith Arndt (Germany) and Zoulfia Zabirova (Russia), could only manage 11th and 8th respectively, making the podium Ziljaard-van Moorsel, Barry and Thuerig. Canadian women did not fare as as well as hoped, with Lyne Bessette 16th and Sue Palmer-Komar right behind her in 17th.

Sue Palmer-Komar - "I left my legs behind in Kamloops, I guess (referring to her very strong ride to win the national title). It was tough. I didn't have my best day, I don't think. I kind of felt it in the warmup but you've got to go with what you've got. I just tried to go hard. But, I've never concentrated on the time trial before, I've never done it at the Worlds."

Sue was also asked about continuing in the sport, a la French legend Jeannie Longo (now competing in her sixth consecutive Games), and going to Beijing. "I'd still be younger than Longo is now. I'd be 41, so that's how old Longo was in Sydney. I would probably like have another kid, I would hope, so I can't see it (another Olympics). I've got other things I want to do in life. I want to give back. I want to help kids, get involved in sport and have alternatives to other bad things. Start my teaching career, maybe." (Palmer-Komar has a degree in Physical Education, and a B. Ed.)

Lyne Bessette - "When I was on the start, I was thinking about a medal; maybe it was possible. But, I was 15th in Hamilton, 16th here . . . so maybe that is where I am (in time trialling). I had good legs, but I just couldn't go any faster than that. I'm not a specialist (in the time trial), so to be faster I would have to specialize. I have my pro team commitments, we do the major Tours (many of which Bessette has won), so it is hard to do."

Dede Barry - "I had really good sensations on Tuesday (the day before the race) in training, so I had quite a bit of confidence. I was in contact with Jim (Ochowicz - US team director) all race, so I had splits, I knew where I was, how I was doing. There was still a bit of wind out there, but nothing compared to Monday and Tuesday, so I was able to use all the fastest equipment. For me the way back was harder, especially going up a couple of the hills, because I found it harder to get into a good rhythm."

Compared to other wins, like world title:

"This is far and above anything else! Being part of the Olympics is so special, I'm just on a high right now."

Dede also received several phone calls from husband Michael in the morning (back in Girona, Spain, preparing for Vuelta with US Postal). "He's been a big motivation to me both professionally and personally. He's been a really good friend to me, a great training partner. He's always there with me in spirit and so he was a big part of my ride today."

Barry also was wearing unique shoe covers - made for her by national team sponsor Pearl Izumi: "Because of security issues, I asked them to make white doves for shoes; I wanted to do something more patriotic." They made her special covers with stripes and doves (instead of stars ). Photo.

"I've read a lot about the history of the Games in the last several weeks coming here. It has a lot of special meaning for me. I really feel I can identify with the Olympic movement for me and it drove me even farther in these races."

"It's about peaceful competition and that's something I think is really positive. Obviously there's been a lot of concern in the world the last couple of years, especially since 9/11. I think for me it takes on special meaning being part of the Olympics because it's about peace."

Men

There was a host of contenders in this group, led by favourites Jan Ullrich (Germany), Michael Rich (Germany) and Michael Rogers (Australia). In the end, none of these riders would make the podium.

The men's field was sent off in three waves, with each successive wave starting after the former one was well into their second lap. In the first wave, Rene Andrle (Czech Republic) was the fastest, but his time was eclipsed almost immediately by countryman Michal Hrazdira, who was then supplanted by Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (Spain), that fastest in the wave. Lone Canadian entrant Eric Wohlberg was in this group, and was fifth fastest for the wave, and finished a very credible 18th overall; an extremely strong result in what is probably the strongest field ever assembled for an Olympic time trial.

Finally, though, it was time for the big guns of the third wave. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) was first out, and rode consistently to finish 6th overall. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Spain), one of the pre-race favourites was obviously still suffering from his crash in the road race (with bandages all down his right side) and could only managed 16th.

Rich started out strong, recording the fastest splits on each leg, but they were immediately eclipsed by defending Olympic champion Viatcheslav Ekimov (Russia) who blazed through with the fastest first 12 kilometres of the race - 14:14.82 . Ekimov slowed slightly for the second and third splits, but still finished 19 seconds ahead of Rich. Bobby Julich (USA) started right behind Ekimov; a little slower on the first 12 kilometres, but then warmed up to record the fastest split for the second 12. He also faded slightly after that, but recovered in the final leg to take the next fastest overall time to Ekimov, seven and a half seconds back.

Laszlo Bodrogi (Hungary) was next, but he was 'way back, and then it was Michael Rogers, the defacto world champion since David Millar has now admitted to EPO use. Rogers was consistently strong, but only second or third fastest through the first three splits, gradually pushing him back out of contention, to eventually finish fourth.

Finally there were only two riders left - Tyler Hamilton (USA) and everyone's favourite, Jan Ullrich. Hamilton started slow, only third fastest in the first two splits. Then he seemed to turn it up a level and cranked out the fastest second lap of anyone, culminating in the fastest 12 kilometre split of the race - covering the final leg in 14:08.37 - and taking the lead from Ekimov by a huge 18.84 seconds.

The race was over at this point - Ullrich had not recording any leg above seventh fastest, and had no chance of overtaking any of the top three. He would eventually finish seventh, 1:30.30 behind Hamilton, and disappeared immediately after his ride.

Eric Wohlberg - "It's not too bad a ride for riding superstock in the top fuel class (laughs). I lost a wheel magnet on my wheel early, and I generally gear off my speed, so I might have lost a couple of seconds here or there.

It wasn't as windy (as earlier in the week), but definitely still windy on the way out. For me, windy is probably better than hilly, because I have a good aero position it helps me. I was just going as hard as I could.

Saturday (when he flatted, and then was dropped in the road race) was disappointing, so I was glad to have a chance to redeem myself. Twice now I've been top-20 at the Olympics, but still only get a spot a week before, which is frustrating. Of course, would have been better if knew before, but after Beauce I was doing a lot of motorpacing anyway. If the CCA wants to send me to Worlds for the time trial I'll have time to prepare properly.

Finally, I also wanted to pass on the word that the staff has been just killing themselves for us here. For once, we are getting as good support, or better, than we would on our trade teams."

Tyler Hamilton - "It was brutally hard with the heat and the wind. I knew that it would be important to stay calm, and gauge your effort properly. I started maybe a little too hard, so I backed off on the way back on the first lap. Then I felt stronger on the second lap.

I was so nervous today before the start; incredibly nervous, like I was in my first bike race. I knew that I had good legs, but there was a lot of wind, and I had to stay concentrated, stay in the aero position, try to avoid using my upper body.

Today I just tried to do the best I could do, tried to focus and what I could do and not think about others. I wanted to leave everything on the course, which I did; when I finished I was spent."

Hamilton was asked whether this helped make up for the disappointment of the Tour (he had to drop out after injuring his back in a crash).

"I could have been last in every race this year, and the the gold medal still makes this a perfect year for me. For sure, this makes up for the Tour disappointment. July was a bad month for me - many, many bad days - but today, August 18th, banishes that to the back of my mind now. This is a great day for US cycling - Dede (silver), Bobby (bronze) and myself showed that the US has a great future ahead."

Bobby Julich - "I knew this wasn't really my kind of course - I prefer ones that are more technical, with ups and downs. I like courses were the average is like 47, 48 kilometres per hour, but I knew this one would be over 50. So, I had good legs, but I didn't expect this, I had no idea how I was doing - no radio, didn't look at the splits.

This morning I did two laps of the course easy. I'm a very meticulous person, so I spent a lot of time arranging and rearranging bags, to get everything prepared before just the way I wanted it. USA Cycling put us in a hotel only 300 metres from here (start-finish), so that also kept us very relaxed, and it was obviously the right plan."

Julich also spoke about how his career has been revitalized this year, riding for Bjarne Riis on Team CSC.

"Morale is much more a part of cycling than people realize. A change of team and the realization that this is a sport, and we should enjoy it has made a big difference for me. When I was signed with CSC it gave me back my confidence. He (Riis) has definitely changed me as a rider. He instilled confidence in me from day one. I've floundered around since 1998 for four or five years, but he has brought me back. I was thinking about quitting. He's a man of few words, but he can instill confidence in a rider. If you could say I have trainer, it would be Bjarne."

Tyler Hamilton, who was with CSC in 2003, also commented on working with Bjarne Riis. "I owe a lot of credit to Bjarne Riis. Before CSC I had no confidence, and Bjarne taught me how to be a leader. It is good to see Bobby back riding to his potential."

Viatcheslav Ekimov - "It is a very nice course for me - exactly the type of course I prefer. I was a little disappointed with my second lap, but still a great day for me. To finish second after such a hard season, after the Tour gives me motivation for the coming years." (Note: this caused a stir in the press conference, since it was expected Ekimov would retire at the end of this year)

Ekimov compared the circuit to the one he won on four years ago in Sydney: "Sydney was more technical; this course is for speed and power. here, we did not have to worry about corners. I wish we could have more time trials like here in Athens. This medal is a complete surprise, and another gift for my career."

He was also asked about staying for another Olympics: "Another four years... It has been 20 years since my first Olympics, and I can't talk about four years away - that is a long time and I will be quite a bit older!

 


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