The coaches for the U.S. Olympic men's road cycling team want supporting players for world-ranked Lance Armstrong, but Frank McCormack of Leicester, a star on the Saturn team, isn't used to a back-up role. That's the explanation that U.S. Cycling Federation coaching director Chris Carmichael gave me for not selecting national criterium champion McCormack for the team.
McCormack, home for two days last week before heading off to a six-day stage race in Canada, said he was "absolutely" disappointed to be left off the team. But he mostly talked about facts, not feelings. "I rode well at the trials, better than most people, better than people they selected, but they didn't select me," he said. "I'm not going to say I should be on the team or shouldn't be on the team, but I think I showed I'm very capable of racing on an Olympic team."
McCormack, 27, finished third overall in the Olympic trials this month and was named an alternate to the team. Armstrong's Motorola teammates George Hincapie and Greg Randolph got the two "coaches' choice" berths, joining Armstrong and trials winners Frankie Andreu (Motorola) and Steve Hegg (Chevrolet-L.A. Sheriff) on the Olympic squad.
Carmichael said he received about 15 calls of protest during his first two days back in his office in Colorado Springs, Colo., after the trials. Friends and fans of McCormack in Worcester, calling themselves the Committee to Re-examine the Olympic Selection Process, have been distributing fliers listing USCF officials' phone numbers and urging people to call and ask why McCormack isn't on the team.
Carmichael said he didn't feel he had to defend the individuals who were chosen, but could explain the coaching staff's philosophy for building an Olympic team. The cornerstone, he said, is Armstrong, the only American currently racing "who has demonstrated that he can win" against world-class competition. With the Olympics open to professionals this year, the 138-mile road race July 31 in Atlanta is going to be "like the Tour de France and the World Championships all rolled into one day," he said.
What's needed, Carmichael said, are "people that can ride support for Lance, from the first kilometer to the end, who understand what that job entails, what responsiblities they have, whether it's carrying musettes from the feed zone or whatever it takes."
He admitted that "most anyone who'd be selected ... and certainly Frank McCormack ... would understand that would be their role," but said the ideal is riders who are already used to playing a supporting role. "There's no learning curve in the Olympic Games," he said. "It just has to get done."
"Some people with high Olympic points were the protected athletes within their team, the team winners, so to speak, and that's an element," he said. "Frankie (McCormack) had a strong team behind him that I think was trying very hard to get him an automatic selection (first or second place)."
McCormack said that reasoning is "just an excuse. Obviously, they have to defend their decision. It takes winners to know winners. When you have people who don't know how to win, how can they help someone else win?"
With the Olympic trials his biggest goal this season, McCormack had his training timed perfectly, peaking with a first-place finish in the final race. "I know when I have to race, when I have to rest," he said. "A lot of guys need a Chris Carmichael to tell them what to do. I don't."
McCormack said his performance in the trials speaks for itself. "It wasn't the kind of racing where you just luckily slip into the right breakaway," he said. Consider his second-place finish in the Pittsburgh race May 26, won by Hegg with a long solo lead. McCormack was on his own in a chase group that included Andreu and Hincapie, and Tyler Hamilton and two of his U.S. Postal Service teammates, and McCormack "still beat them all in the end. Three Postal or two Motorola riders should have (been able to) beat one Saturn rider. It just shows I can do a lot of things in a lot of different situations," he said.
He said there are two other people who "should feel left out" -- Chris Horner (Nutra-Fig/Colorado Cyclist), who won the first race in the trials, and Hamilton, who also was named an alternate. Horner and Hamilton were next behind McCormack in the final standings.
Carmichael mentioned Norm Alvis (Saturn), Mike Engleman (U.S. Postal Service) and Hamilton as riders he thinks could fulfill a supporting role.
"People think it's a political decision. Actually, it was the least 'politically correct' decision we could do," Carmichael said. "The noncontroversial way would have been just to take the top four in Olympic points, but I don't believe that with that we will have the best team on the starting line ...
"It's my butt on the line," he continued. "I believe the person who's accountable also has to be empowered. We did what we believe was the right thing to win an Olympic medal."
The idea is "to maximize the potential of the one athlete" who has a shot at a medal, he said, because the United States is playing to win. "If we went there and scattered it, we could maybe get someone in the top 10, but that's not worth it."
"I would love to have five Lance Armstrongs, five guys that could win the race. That's what the Italians are doing," Carmichael said. "Belgium doesn't have that depth; they're taking Johan Museeuw and four teammates that can support him."
There's no question the United States is at a disadvantage against the Europeans, he said. Other Olympians to watch include Laurent Jalabert of France, Spain's Miguel Indurain and Abraham Olano, and Max Sciandri, an Italian with dual citizenship who will race on Great Britain's team.
Armstrong has his work cut out for him, and McCormack,
never a prima donna, could have helped. Despite being burned, he's found a
silver lining in his fans' reaction. "It's kind of a consolation prize to know
that I have such good friends," McCormack said, characteristically turning the
spotlight off himself. "Win or lose, they know I did my best."
Three Massachusetts cyclists have earned spots on the U.S. Paralympic cycling team, which will compete Aug. 17-22 in road and track events in Atlanta during the international games for the disabled. The 25-member team has tandem riders from the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes, bicycle and tricycle racers from the U.S. Cerebral Palsy Athletic Association, and amputees from Disabled Sports USA who ride regular bikes, not wheelchairs.
Blind stokers Pam Fernandes of Brighton and Ray Collins of Plymouth, along with CP trike rider Corey Huntley of Springfield, made the team during road and track trials June 2-4 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Fernandes, 34, and her pilot, Mike Rosenberg of Portland, Ore, unofficially broke the world record for mixed tandems in the kilo at the USABA trials, with a time of 1:13.52. That's more than 1 second faster than the record, held by an Australian pair.
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