Road could steal cycling drama in London

Some cyclists upset about proximity to Tour de France

While many riders are upset that the Olympics follow so closely after the Tour de France, others such as American Taylor Phinney, will skip the Tour in order to devote more time to the Games. Enlarge photo

Daniele Badolato/Associated Press file photo

While many riders are upset that the Olympics follow so closely after the Tour de France, others such as American Taylor Phinney, will skip the Tour in order to devote more time to the Games.

The track slate is considered the most glamorous part of cycling at the Olympics, and Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and the rest of the powerhouse British team are sure to draw plenty of attention during the competition on home soil.

Only this time, there may be even more drama surrounding the road race.

The men’s and women’s events will be among the first medals handed out at the London Games, with a course that passes some of the city’s iconic landmarks. And with the men’s race beginning less than a week after the conclusion of the Tour de France, attrition may play a role in who climbs to the top step of the podium during the medal ceremony.

“I don’t think it’s ideal, and it’s a little frustrating, because there are a lot of sports in the Olympics that don’t have their biggest event of the year one week before the Olympics,” said American Tyler Farrar, who will be among the favorites if the race is decided in a sprint.

“All your big contenders will also be riding the Tour,” Farrar said, “so I think we’re all facing the same challenge, targeting the Tour because it’s so important as a professional.”

British sprint star Mark Cavendish will be coming off the Tour de France, along with Tour champion Cadel Evans of Australia and Swiss time trial specialist Fabian Cancellara.

But there are some high-profile riders who will come into the Olympics fresh.

Taylor Phinney of the United States will not be riding in the Tour, giving him all of July to prepare for the time trial and road race in London. Tom Boonen of Belgium is another rider whose focus this summer is on the Olympics, and he’ll be among those trying to break away from the field during the 156-mile race that starts and finishes just outside of Buckingham Palace.

“The Olympics have a pretty special place in my heart,” said Phinney, who finished seventh in the individual pursuit at the Beijing Olympics before turning his attention to road racing.

“I think it’s going to be wide open,” he said, “and I just want to be there at the end.”

Phinney, from Boulder, was among the many riders who were crushed when the International Olympic Committee decided to overhaul the track program for the London Games.

The individual pursuit was eliminated from the schedule, along with the points race and the men’s Madison, all part of the IOC’s pursuit of gender equity. The multi-discipline omnium has been added along with a women’s team sprint, team pursuit and keirin.

Another change is a cap on entries – each nation is only allowed one rider in individual events, which means teams such as Britain and France that hoped to put more than one rider on the podium in some of the races will have to settle for giving it their best shot.

“This will water down the field,” said French track cyclist Francois Pervis. “The Olympic races will be 10 times easier than the world championships. Many of the best in the world will simply not compete in London.”

There still will be plenty of superstars, many of them riding in front of boisterous home crowds for the British team, which took home 14 medals at the Beijing Olympics.

Hoy was a big part of that success, becoming the first Briton to win three gold medals in a single Olympics since Henry Taylor in 1908. With another gold medal at the Athens Games and a silver medal at the Sydney Olympics, Hoy already is the most successful Olympic male cyclist in history.

He’ll be trying for one more medal haul in London, along with Pendleton, a nine-time world champion and the reigning Olympic and world sprint champion.

“The added dimension of a home Games does make this different,” said David Brailsford, the performance director for British Cycling. “And while we’re focused on winning, and that’s what we’re all about, I do think this team takes on a broader aspect. We want the nation to be proud of these Games and proud of the competitors in it and proud of the British competitors.”

The British will be pushed by strong squads from Australia, France and Germany on the track, but they also might have a say in the outcome of the BMX competition.

The discipline returns for the second time at the Olympics, and Shanaze Reade gives the host nation a legitimate medal hope. But the former three-time world champion will have to best a field that includes Magalie Pottier of France and Arielle Martin of the United States.

Maris Strombergs of Latvia will attempt to defend his BMX gold medal against the likes of Australian Sam Willoughby, American Connor Fields and Frenchman Joris Daudet.

The mountain bike competition is the only event that will take place entirely outside of London. The course covering just over three miles was built at Hadleigh Farm in Essex and was designed specifically to provide a technical challenge for the world’s top riders.

Julian Absalon of France is the two-time and defending Olympic champion in mountain biking, but he’ll be challenged by Nino Schurter of Switzerland and Czech rider Jaroslav Kulhavy. Durango’s Todd Wells also will be in the mountain bike field.

Georgia Gould gives the U.S. quite possibly its best chance to medal in the discipline it invented since Susan DeMattei won bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Gould will be chasing down a loaded field that includes Canadian Catherine Pendrel and Poland’s Maja Wloszczowska.

“We have a strong team going to London with a solid combination of experience, leadership and young talented athletes who are all capable of standout performances,” said Jim Miller, vice president of athletics for USA Cycling. “Each member of the team is deserving; we’re proud to welcome them as a part of Team USA and look forward to a promising Olympic Games.”

The Durango Herald contributed to this report