With a majority of Olympic hopefuls busy racing with their professional teams throughout Europe and North America, the US sent a squad of young, up-and-coming athletes to race in Beijing at the Good Luck Test Event.
The squad included Jon Garcia (BMC), Scott Nydam (BMC), Nathan Miller (BMC), Sheldon Deeny (VMG Racing), Zak Grabowski (VMG Racing) and Andy Guptill (Colavita-Sutter Home) for the men's road race. All six competed in the road race, but only Garcia and Nydam did the time trial.
The team's top road race finisher, Garcia, was ninth, 1'52" off the pace of winner Gabriele Bosisio of Italy, but the entire squad was there to do reconnaissance on the Olympic courses. The consensus was that road race in 2008 will be one of the most difficult in Olympic history.
"The one thing about the course is that there is no opportunity for recovery," said Nydam, who finished 12th on Saturday. "On the final circuits, you're keeping pressure on the pedals the whole time, even on the descent going into a headwind. It's definitely not easy. The climb isn't super-steep, but there are a few critical sections, especially about two-thirds of the way up where you hit a couple of switchbacks and it gets steep for about a kilometer. There is a lot of opportunity there because that far up the climb attrition has set in and it's a good time for attacks to go."
Jim Miller thought the road course was especially well-suited for American women. "I think it's a good course for the team that we'll have coming to Beijing next year," Miller said. "It's something that plays into our women's style of racing a lot more than Sydney or Athens probably did, so I think it's a great course for American women." Miller also thought the course offered a "super opportunity" for the American men.
Miller also pointed out that the seemingly steady winds will play a role, making it tough on any breaks that do escape. "Of course if there is a lot of wind, that changes everything, but we've been here for five days and the wind has been the same. I was here for five days in November and the wind blew the same direction and did the same thing every day."
Nydam, who complimented the high level of safety of the road course, predicted a race of attrition. "I think the numbers game is going to be a huge factor. Italy was the only team that had strong numbers on Saturday so they could send a guy and then the other guys could sit on until it came back, then they'd send another guy. They definitely had the advantage because of their numbers. It's also a course where if you are sheltered you could save quite a bit of energy, so if you're able to put yourself into a position to sit in, your chances of doing well are pretty high. If gaps start to form on the climb and separation happens, it's going to be difficult on the descent, so it's not easy for things to come back together. We had to chase pretty hard to bring back breakaways that normally would be easy for a big group to catch."