United States Riders confident ahead of Olympic time trial
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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

United States Riders confident ahead of Olympic time trial

by Ben Atkins at 5:25 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Olympics
Armstrong looking to retain title; Neben determined to medal: Phinney spurred on by London’s crowds

The United States has three riders in the Olympic Games time trial tomorrow, August 1st, and all three have the potential to take a medal. Kristin Armstrong is the champion from Beijing, China, four years ago, while she and Amber Neben are both former World champions in the race against the clock. For 22-year-old Taylor Phinney - who is already riding his second Olympics, although it’s his first on the road - the experience of the London Games is spurring him on to what he hopes will be greater things.

Kristin Armstrong; Olympic champion 2008, World champion 2006, 2009

kristin armstrongArmstrong retired after the 2009 season, having taken her second World time trial title but, having given birth to her son in 2010, announced that she intended to come back for London 2012. Denied a place in last year’s World championships after an appeal by Neben, the 38-year-old has been virtually unbeaten in time trials this season, in a predominantly domestic programme.

Having seen the course on today’s training day, Armstrong likes what she sees.

"It's a challenging course. It's a true time trial course,” she said. “It has a little bit of everything. It has some technicality to it. It has some rollers going and coming back in. It's windy and the rain may come as well. There are a lot of variables out there. They call the time trial the 'race of truth' and I think that it will be the race of truth tomorrow."

Like all of the other time trial riders however, Armstrong rode Sunday’s road race. With the United States being one of the most active teams in the race - and with Shelley Olds having punctured out of the breakaway group - Armstrong did more work than most on the front of the peloton.

"I am recovering from the hard effort on Sunday,” she said. “It was a hard race. Everyone is trying to take two days to recover. The men have three days between, the women have two. The men raced longer, but when you're at this level, there is no fitness to be gained now. It's all about resting and recovering for tomorrow."

The road to London has not been a completely smooth one for Armstrong, with her very attendance being threatened by a crash in the prologue of the Exergy Tour in late May seeing her break her collarbone. Having recovered from that injury, the Exergy-TWENTY12 rider was one of a number of riders to crash on Sunday, landing heavily on her left elbow.

"I think the hurt that I am going to suffer during the race is by far going to outweigh the hurt that is on my elbow,” she reasoned. “It's a little sensitive, but it will not affect me. Once I am down on my pads (on the aerobars), it feels like I have a bruise."

As defending champion Armstrong will start with number one on her back, and have the honour of being last to start. Although she will be one of the big favourites for gold, the experienced rider knows that she will not be the only one.

"It's very special, but there is also some pressure,” she admitted. “I feel the pressure. Normally, a day or two before the time trial, I start feeling stress. Knowing that I am coming back trying to defend, I know I have a target on my back.

"There are a lot of people who are riding very well right now,” she continued. “You can never count out the reigning world time trial champion, Judith Arndt. Clara Hughes has come back out of retirement, just like I have, because we love this Olympic moment. She's here to do one thing, and that's to medal.

“Ellen Van Dijk, who is going to put down a good show. Trixi Worrack had a great ride last week. Amber Neben is always consistent in her time trials. There is a big group of us who could medal. And you never know what you're going to get out of [road race gold medallist Marianne] Vos tomorrow."

As a mother this time around, Armstrong has very different priorities in her life, and also has a different reason to try for victory than she did four years ago.

"It is amazing,” she said. “It's been a very hard 20 months. I have had a lot of support behind me, from my team, my husband and family. My child will be two years old in September. I want to give him something to play with."

Amber Neben; World champion 2008

amber nebenNeben is riding her second Olympics, but was not one of the United States two riders selected for the time trial in Beijing. She bounced back that September however, to take the World time trial title and, having had an equally impressive 2012 season to date, hopes to get a result this time around.

"You know, I really like the course,” said the 37-year-old. “I think it is a beautiful time trial course. It's a true time trial course. Long sections where you have to roll the power and the speed. A few different areas where you have to think about a pacing strategy."

Neben too has identified her main rivals, as the ones that she will have to beat to take the title.

"Yeah, I think with the women there are eight or nine women who could be up there,” she explained. “Obviously, my teammate Kristin Armstrong coming back healthy and strong. I know she is so motivated. If you look at the last two world championship podiums it has been the same three people with Arndt, [Emma] Pooley and [Linda] Villumsen. I think those three are super dangerous. Clara Hughes coming back. Ellen van Dijk. I think the time gaps are going to be really close. You are going to have to have that perfect day.

"I didn't come here not to medal,” she added. “God has got me in his hands and I am going to ride with His strength tomorrow and see what's going to happen. I am certainly shooting for the podium if not the gold medal."

Taylor Phinney; World junior champion 2010

taylor phinneyPhinney is already enjoying his first Olympic road events, having finished fourth in Saturday’s road race; just missing out on the medals, but going one better than his father Taylor Phinney in the 1984 Games, and three better than his own position in the 2008 Individual Pursuit. For the 22-year-old though, one of the big positives from the London Games has been the size and enthusiasm of the British crowds out on the roads.

“This is the first time [at the Olympics] I have signed any autographs,” he said. “I always like to stop and say 'hi' but the crowds in general, based on Saturday, have been really incredible. The best crowd experience I have ever come across in a race, like deafening for 250km on Saturday, which was quite special. I am hoping it is similarly loud for tomorrow. That makes our job more enjoyable when you have the energy and passion from the fans to feed off of and push ourselves faster."

Like his female compatriots, Phinney feels good about the time trial course, which starts and finishes at Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace and loops south into the Surrey suburbs and countryside.

"I like the course, it's a good course for me, relatively flat, rolling,” he said. “You know it is a little bit tricky finding your way, finding the right way through some of the roads. They are a little bit bumpy, but we are used to that. I think it is going to be really cool, the last couple of kilometers coming through Bushy Park. There will be a ton of people going round that pond and finishing up. It is going to be really, really special. I think it's a great course."

Phinney’s road race result, where he finished so close to a medal, has also given him an extra spur for tomorrow’s race and, having been training specifically since the Giro d’Italia - where he won the opening time trial, and might have taken the closing one had a race moto not led him off course - he hopes to go at least one place higher.

"I got fourth place in the road race and was happy to be up there,’ he said. “But it was one of the more difficult places to get at the Olympic Games, and leaving the race with nothing after being so close to a medal. So I know my form is good and I have really been working specifically for this. I know that if I have a really good ride I can be up there and I am hungry from the road race. That's extra motivation."

Like the women, Phinney knows who the riders to beat will be if he wants to get onto the podium, and how tough a challenge it will be.

"I would love to get a medal tomorrow but I know it is a pretty big task with [Bradley] Wiggins, [Chris] Froome, Tony Martin, Fabian Cancellara. You know, older than me and more experienced.

“They've proved themselves in the past to be very, very good, obviously,” he concluded. “But I am up-and-coming."


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