Friends and fans of professional bicycle racer Frank McCormack have launched a campaign questioning the Olympic selection process that left the Leicester rider off the five-man U.S. road racing team.
Saturn rider McCormack, 27, was named an alternate to the team June 3, after winning the final race and finishing third overall in the Olympic trials. He earned more road racing points in the trials than any other rider, but fell short in the time trials.
A handful of cycling fans, calling themselves the Committee to Re-examine the Olympic Selection Process and basing their effort at O'Neil's Bicycle & Ski Shop, are distributing fliers that say: "Where's Frankie?" The fliers list McCormack's qualifications, allege that it appears team members were chosen before the trials, and urge people to ask U.S. Cycling Federation officials why McCormack isn't on the team that will compete in the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
"We believe Americans should have the best on the team, the team members who have proven themselves," said O'Neil's owner Jim O'Neil. "Isn't that what the Olympics is supposed to be about?"
"I feel cheated," said Toby Stanton, owner of Hot Tubes, a Worcester bike frame builder and former racing sponsor of McCormack who is helping O'Neil run the "Where's Frankie?" campaign. He said McCormack, the pro national criterium champion, is "America's best field sprinter."
USCF selection procedures called for the No. 1 and No. 2 points winners in the five-race trials series to be put on the team, along with Motorola star Lance Armstrong, who qualified by virtue of his top-15 world ranking. The remaining two spots were coaches' choices.
The trials winners were Motorola's Frankie Andreu and time trial leader Steve Hegg, who rides for Chevrolet-L.A. Sheriff. The coaches' choices were George Hincapie of Motorola and Greg Randolph, an amateur rider from the University of Oregon who was put on the Motorola squad three weeks before the trials as an unpaid apprentice. This is the first year that Olympic road cycling is open to professionals.
The U.S. Olympic Committee must approve the USCF selections. The USOC will not reject the selections unless Olympic qualification procedures were not met or were altered without USOC approval, according to Dean Crandall of Denver, Colo., a board member of USA Cycling, which oversees the USCF.
Stanton said the selection procedure was "slanted from the beginning" to favor Motorola riders. He said combining points from the two time trials and three road races in the trials boosted Motorola riders' chances because their team has more time trial experience, from racing in the cycling capitals of Europe, than other American pro teams, which mostly compete in the United States.
He also criticized the USCF rule that mandates that the trials points winner -- Andreu, not time trial specialist and 1984 Olympic medalist Hegg -- be the one to compete in the Olympic time trial Aug. 3 along with Armstrong. All five team members will compete in the Olympic road race July 31.
Motorola is a favorite employer for "graduates" of the amateur national team groomed in Colorado by USCF national coaching director Chris Carmichael and men's coach Roy Knickman, who made the Olympic choices. All the Olympic team selections except Hegg are products of Carmichael's coaching program.
McCormack's career trajectory bypassed Carmichael's program. He began racing as a teen-ager in Plymouth and rose through the ranks of New England amateurs before turning professional with the former IME team based in Plymouth. He moved to Leicester in 1994 to work for Hot Tubes during a season when he had no major racing sponsor. The Saturn pro team hired him last year and vaulted him to 12 major victories in one season. This spring, VeloNews called him a "dark horse" contender for the Olympic team.
O'Neil and Stanton said they did not buy the argument that Armstrong's Motorola teammates are necessarily best suited to help propel the team leader over the finish line at the Olympics. McCormack, if on the team, would understand his role to work for Armstrong and be a team player, they said.
They said they didn't want to knock any of the riders chosen. But Stanton, saying the selection of Randoph was "a shock to everybody," said the USCF coaches are relying on "big dumb muscle" rather than tactical smarts.
Crandall said the USA Cycling board has confidence in the coaches' decisions, and Carmichael knows he is putting his job on the line. "If they don't produce the best America has to offer, we have the ability to review their job performance at the end of the year," Crandall said.
He said that by reserving two Olympic team berths for the trials winners, the selection procedures do provide a chance for "the guy that may not be the coach's darling."
Not everyone with the USCF is defending the selections. USCF trustee Bob Beal of Hingham said of the coaches' choices, "This time they made a mistake. I think Roy (Knickman) is trying to justify his amateur program."
McCormack's fans distributed "Where's Frankie?" fliers at the CoreStates USPRO Championship road race Sunday in Philadelphia, where they hoped McCormack would demonstrate again he deserved an Olympic berth. But McCormack felt sick and dropped out of contention. Eddy Gragus of the U.S. Postal Service team won the 156-mile race. Randolph placed fifth.
McCormack was on his way to Boulder, Colo., yesterday to tape a Saturn commercial and could not be reached. Stanton said McCormack learned of the "Where's Frankie?" campaign over the weekend and, according to his wife, Mary, he did not object.
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