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Cycling: CYCLING - Armstrong; McCartney Earn Nominations to Olympic Team

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posted on Jun, 20 2004 @ 09:55 AM
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Redlands, Calif. (June 19, 2004)--Jason McCartney (Coralville, Iowa) and Kristin Armstrong (Boise, Idaho) each staked their claim to a position on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Cycling Team today by virtue of their victories in the PoolGel USCF Elite National Championships and Team USA Selection Race. Armstrong, a member of the all-star T-Mobile Professional Cycling Team and McCartney, a rider for the HealthNet squad, each posted impressive wins amongst America’s best cyclists when the ultimate prize was on the line.

After a long and arduous journey, the 30-year-old McCartney, a former European pro who gave up cycling ten years ago, reintroduced himself to the sport in 1998 with renewed focus and has officially arrived at the top of his game. After winning a stage of this year’s Tour de Georgia against a field that included his future Olympic teammate, Lance Armstrong, McCartney has quickly become one of the strongest men in the U.S. peloton and proved it again today by executing the right move at the right time.

The men’s race today consisted of 10 laps of an 18.2km circuit after an opening 7.6km neutral lap for a total of 189.6km. After starting in the town of Redlands, the course wound its way through the technical twists and turns characteristic of the notorious Sunset Loop circuit and featured several challenging climbs on each lap. The course profile suggested that only a small group of the 94 riders would still be in contention in the closing laps, and that’s exactly what happened.

In the opening lap, a break of three riders developed that included strongman Chris Baldwin (Boulder, Colo.), Doug Ollenrenshaw (Corvalis, Ore.) and Will Frischkorn (Boulder, Colo.) The trio proceeded to work together to drive the break and eventually increased their advantage to nearly seven minutes over the main pack that included pre-race favorites Chris Horner (Bend, Ore.) and Fred Rodriguez (Emeryville, Calif.). The bunch behind stayed within striking distance and with just under three laps remaining, the true effort to catch the leaders began.

Entering the first significant climb of the loop, the pace intensified and the field shattered. By the crest of the climb, the peloton had been split into several sizeable groups, each with significant horsepower and a keen interest on chasing down the break of three ahead. After several changes to the composition of the main chase group, the leaders were consumed and a new lead group of 15 riders had emerged. It was evident that the winner would come from the new selection as most of the key players were present. Along with the original break of three were Horner, Rodriguez, McCartney, John Lieswyn (Ames, Iowa), Antonio Cruz (Long Beach, Calif.), Dave Zabriskie (Salt Lake City, Utah), Adam Bergman (Lino Lakes, Minn.), Kirk O’Bee (Ada, Mich.), Jacob Rosenbarger (Athens, Ga.), Evan Elken (Seattle, Wash.), Andrew Bajadali (Boulder, Colo.) and Chris Walker (Goleta, Calif.).

Throughout the final two laps of the race several attacks occurred but it was an effort from McCartney with just over one lap remaining that proved to be the difference. With the 15 remaining contenders separated into a few small groups, McCartney made his move and rode the final 20km of the race alone, soloing across the finish line and onto the U.S. Olympic Team just over a minute ahead of second place finisher, Bergman.

“I couldn’t beat any of those guys in a sprint, said an elated McCartney afterwards, “I just had to go.” The win came after several mishaps for McCartney. Early in the race, be broke a spoke on his wheel and proceeded to ride much of the race with the rear tire rubbing against his break pads. After fixing the problem, the added power output took its toll as he began experiencing cramps in the closing laps. “With two laps to go, Horner was trying to get across to the group behind me with Lieswyn in it and I started to cramp pretty badly. I thought the race was over for me right there,” said McCartney. “I was trying to set it up for Lieswyn in the last lap, but when I attacked the second time, that was it.”

McCartney will now likely join the foursome of Lance Armstrong (Austin, Texas), George Hincapie (Greenville, S.C.), Bobby Julich (Glenwood Springs, Colo.) and Tyler Hamilton (Marblehead, Mass.) on the men’s road cycling team in Athens. Although the team is not officially named until July, the other four riders are the only ones that have met USA Cycling’s Olympic selection criteria.

McCartney competed professionally in Europe up until 1994 at which point he quit racing altogether after losing his passion for the sport. “I just got burnt out and depressed,” he remembered. He made a return to elite-level cycling six years ago and now has reached the pinnacle of his cycling career.

One of the heavy favorites heading into the race was Horner, a man who has won virtually every big race in the U.S. His day ended in disappointment and frustration, often times the result of being a marked man. “Everyone else refused to work when McCartney rolled off the front,” he said.”

Earlier in the day, Kristin Armstrong rode to a spot in the women’s Olympic squad after besting future Olympic teammate and winner of Thursday’s time trial, Christine Thorburn (Davenport, Iowa), in a two-up sprint after spending half the day off the front of the peloton.

A field of 111 women rode six laps of the course for a total of 116.8km. The early morning start provided some relief as cool and cloudy conditions kept the temperature bearable. At the start line it was obvious that the T-Mobile team had the advantage with several highly decorated riders on their roster of eleven.

With three laps remaining, Armstrong charged hard up the 1km climb that ascended Ford St. and Thorburn was the only rider who had enough in the tank to follow. As the two rode away from the main group behind, T-Mobile unsuccessfully attempted to send another rider across to help Armstrong but the added help wasn’t necessary as Armstrong easily outsprinted Thorburn at the finish.

Thorburn already had a trip to the Olympics sewn up after claiming the national time trial championship earlier in the week and Armstrong now completes the team of three that will likely include Dede Barry (Boulder, Colo.) as the highest ranked American in the international point standings.

“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a kid,” explained Armstrong. “With about two laps to go I was getting emotional. I heard we had about a three minute gap and I wanted to start crying”

Armstrong used to be an elite-level triathlete but switched to the lower-impact sport of cycling after being diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both of her hips.

Olympic hopeful Kimberly Bruckner (Boulder, Colo.) a rider with a strong chance of qualifying in both Thursday’s time trial and today’s road race, fell short of making the Olympic team. “Thursday was really my goal for the entire year and I didn’t get it done in the time trial. It wasn’t about me today, it was about the team. I’m disappointed I’m not going to Athens but happy that we accomplished our goal today of winning the race.”

Armstrong’s victory also earns her the right to wear the stars and stripes jersey for the next 365 days as the USCF women’s elite national champion.

Saturday’s competition concludes the 2004 PoolGel USCF Elite National Championships and Team USA Selection Race.




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