August 19, 2004 – The U.S Cycling Team gathered gold, silver and bronze medals today in one of the most memorable cycling performances in U.S. Olympic history. Tyler Hamilton (Marblehead, Mass.) led the four-rider American contingent in today’s time trial with a gold medal performance while Dede Barry (Boulder, Colo.) rode to silver and Bobby Julich (Glenwood Springs) took home a bronze. The trio’s performance highlighted a successful day that also included a near-miss by Christine Thorburn (Davenport, Iowa) who placed fourth.
Initiating the medal charge, Barry struck first placing second in the women’s time trial behind defending Olympic Champion, Leontein Ziljaard-van Moorsel (NED). On a windy, 24K out-and-back course along the coast, an international field of 25 riders took to the road at 90 second intervals in a race against the clock. At least a dozen of the riders were considered medal contenders and with no clear cut favorite except for van-Moorsel, who suffered a devastating crash earlier in the week in the road race, the race was virtually anybody’s for the taking.
Thorburn, the reigning U.S. National Time Trial Champion, was the eighth rider down the start ramp and 24 kilometers later she was leader after clocking a 32:14.82. Although still early in the competition, Thorburn’s time proved to be outstanding. Barry, the 16th rider to start, was actually the first woman to eclipse Thorburn’s time, clocking a 31:35.62 temporarily putting the American duo first and second on the leaderboard.
Now a waiting game, Barry and Thorburn could only watch as the remaining riders completed their rides. One by one, several of the pre-race favorites failed to live up to their billing as World Champion Joane Somarriba (ESP) Oenone Wood (AUS), and Lyne Bessette (CAN) couldn’t surpass the pace of the Americans. The fourth to last rider, Karen Thuerig (SUI), sandwiched in between the Americans with a 31:54.89 leaving three riders left to decide the medal positions. The first of which, van Moorsel, ripped a 31:11.53 to move into the gold medal position and bump Thorburn off the podium. With two riders remaining, road race silver medalist, Judith Arndt (GER) and Zoulfia Zabirova (RUS), Barry could only wait and hope to hang on to silver. Waiting nervously in the tent for the results, Arndt failed to crack the podium followed by Zabirova leaving Barry with the first cycling medal of these Olympic Games.
“I’m so ecstatic,” Barry claimed afterwards. “It’s so hard to describe what I’m feeling, this is a dream come true. I had a lot of confidence going into the race and I had good preparation.”
When Barry passed the 12K turnaround, she had the fastest intermediate time but struggled on the way back in the difficult conditions. “I had the fastest split,” she explained. “I really struggled on the way back with the hills and the wind, but I just focused on every single pedal stroke. I did quite a bit of specific testing to make my time trial position better and every race I did this year was preparation towards the Olympics. I didn’t have much at the end and Leontein saved a little bit for the finish, so I think that was the difference.”
Inspired by their female counterparts, the men took to the streets in the afternoon with the hopes of putting an exclamation point on Barry’s performance. Amid an equally strong field that included defending Olympic Champion Viatcheslav Ekimov (RUS), Jan Ullrich (GER) and Michael Rogers (AUS), the pair of Americans were faced with a formidable challenge.
Covering the same loop as the women, only twice for a total of 48K, the men went off in three waves with the pre-race favorites stacked near the end. After the first two waves, Igor Gonzales de Galdeano (ESP) laid claim to the fastest time clocking a 59:27.25 with thirteen riders remaining. Ekimov, the sixth to last rider, put up the fastest time splits at the first two checkpoints suggesting that he was on form to repeat his gold medal performance from Sydney. Behind Ekimov, Julich entered the course and started slowly, sitting only seventh after the first time check.
At the finish, Ekimov had posted an impressive 57:50.58 as the first rider to break the 58-miniute barrier. Julich, slowly making up time throughout the remainder of his run, finished just behind Ekimov, moving into silver medal position with a 57:58.19. With Rogers, Ullrich and Hamilton still to finish, Julich’s chances for a medal were good after word from the course was that Ullrich had passed the 36K mark in 7th place. Meanwhile, Rogers had finished with a 58:01.67, just three seconds behind Julich. With a medal all but secured for Julich, it was just a matter of which color…a question that was answered after Hamilton blasted through the line nearly 20 seconds ahead of Ekimov to claim the gold medal. Julich was relegated to bronze, a position that held safely after Ullrich crossed the line in 7th place completing the competition.
“This made my season,” Hamilton later explained.” I could have been last in every race this year and I would still be thrilled with my season after this performance. It’s just a fantastic day for U.S. cycling. Lance has put cycling on the board for America, but today, Dede, Bobby and I showed that there is a lot of depth to American cycling. The U.S. has a great future ahead.”
Early on, Hamilton encountered a bit of trouble after having to ditch his radio just a few kilometers into the race. “I really wanted a radio today,” he explained. “I taped it into the back of my helmet, but it was a bad tape job and it started falling out, so I just had to toss it.”
“It was a hard race with the heat and the wind,” said Hamilton. “It was really important to stay calm but I think I was a little too excited and I went out too hard. I was nervous about exploding too early so I backed off a little bit and felt a lot stronger on the second lap.”
Julich rode the race with a fractured wrist that he suffered in a crash at the Tour de France over three weeks ago. X-rays before the race revealed a fracture that was not detected earlier but Julich competed through the pain.
In a single day in Athens, the U.S. equaled its performance four years earlier in Sydney with Gold, Silver and Bronze with track cycling taking center stage beginning on Aug. 20th.