USA Cycling finalized its Beijing Olympic roster in the men's and women's road and time trial events this week. Unlike in past Olympic years, there were no Olympic Trials and all slots were filled either by athletes meeting specific selection criteria (performances at world caliber events) or by coaches selection.
On the men's side of things, Santa Rosa resident and Team Astana rider Levi Leipheimer will ride both the road race and the time trial(TT) in Beijing. A winner of the final time trial on the way to his podium finish in last year's Tour de France, Leipheimer has shown consistency in the race against the clock and was awarded one of only two slots in the TT.
Joining Levi in both the road race and the time trial will be Garmin-Chipotle rider Dave Zabriskie. Dave is currently recovering from a crash in the Giro d'Italia which left him with a fractured vertebrae. He has been training in and around his home in Salt Lake City and the 2006 silver medalist in the World Time Trial Championships should be at full strength in China.
Making his fifth appearance in an Olympic Games, George Hincapie will ride the road race. The Team Columbia rider first rode at the games of Barcelona as an amateur in 1992 and will be counted on for experience and leadership of the US's five-man road team.
Jason McCartney earned himself a spot on the 2004 Olympic Team by winning the trials road race; this year, he is a coaches selection. Now riding for Team CSC the rider from flood-ravaged Coralville, Iowa has matured since his days as an American-based professional witness his stage win in last year's Vuelta a Espana.
The final rider is Christian Vandevelde, currently competing in the Tour de France for team Garmin-Chipotle. Christian represented the US on the track at the 2000 Sydney Games, this will be his second appearance in the Olympics. Vandevelde is enjoying an excellent road season and may be the big surprise in Beijing. If Zabriskie's back fails to heal completely, look to Christian to take his slot in the time trial.
Overall, this is a strong men's team, especially in the time trial where a medal from either Leipheimer or Zabriskie is a real possibility. Americans won gold and bronze in Athens. With only five riders per team, the road race is usually a crap shoot and 2008 should be no different. The road course is hilly and challenging and if a group goes away early, that could be the race. Team USA will need to be diligent at the front and put riders in all the moves. The Italians always seem to race well in events like this so keeping a big eye on them is also a good strategy.
On the women's side, Kristin Armstrong heads a very strong US team. The 2006 World Time Trial Champion and 2007 World Time Trial silver medalist is a strong favorite for a medal in the TT. The US won silver in this event in 2004 with the now-retired Dede Barry and in 2000 with Mari Holden; the US is in a great position to upgrade that one spot higher on the podium.
Joining Armstrong in the TT is Dr. Christine Thorburn who finished fourth in the TT in Athens and was the 2006 World TT bronze medalist. Dr. Thorburn has taken a leave of absence from her medical responsibilities to train specifically for the Beijing Games. This is her swan song in cycling, hopefully she can go out with a bang.
Armstrong and Thorburn will be joined in the road race by Amber Neben. Neben has been riding strongly in Europe all season and is a two-time winner of the Tour de la Aude, widely regarded as the premier women's stage race. Unfortunately, with only three riders per team, the women's road race is even more of a crap shoot than the men's. Hopefully, Neben or Thorburn can get into a small group from which they can win. If not, look to Armstrong for a solo move late in the race.