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Kendall Ryan named reserve rider for US track team at Tokyo Olympic Games

Kendall Ryan wins 2021 USA Cycling Pro Criterium Championship
Kendall Ryan wins 2021 USA Cycling Pro Criterium Championship (Image credit: Patrick Daly)

It’s been a whirlwind summer for Kendall Ryan (L39ION of Los Angeles), who found redemption after not getting the nod to be part of the US Olympic Track Cycling Team by winning her second US Pro Criterium national title in June.

One month after securing the stars-and-stripes jersey, she now has a ticket to the Tokyo Olympic Games as a reserve rider for USA Cycling and the women’s endurance events for the track. It’s not a complete check on the bucket list, but “better than nothing”.

“I've been training in really fast company for over a year and I've come out of it a USA National Pro Criterium Champion. I wanted to prove a point that I think I deserve to be there [Tokyo],” Ryan told Cyclingnews after adding a second national crown in the criterium to the one she took in 2015.

Kendall has represented the USA on national teams at five World Championships, with two of those on the road, one in cross-country mountain bike, and twice on the track. Ryan was part of the US bronze-medal pair in the Madison, along with Christina Birch, from the 2019 world cup in Brisbane, Australia. When the Worlds took place in Berlin a few months later, Ryan was a reserve athlete there as well.

“For the last four years I've been working towards a huge goal of making the USA Olympic Team. It has taken priority over everything in my life. I've made a lot of sacrifices to be part of the team and I don't think I've ever worked so hard for something. You'll hear a similar story from any athlete who is trying to qualify a spot on the team and a chance to experience something not many people get in their lifetime... because that's what it takes,” Ryan told Cyclingnews.

“Still going as a reserve rider gives me that closure of getting to the Olympics. It's taken me a while to come to that conclusion.”

The position of ‘reserve’ athlete for the endurance events for the US track squad allows Ryan to travel with Team USA, which will happen July 25, and permits her to practice on the track before qualifying begins. However, she does not get to call herself an Olympian, or even stand on the sidelines to cheer, unless she transitions to the status of ‘alternate’, which would happen only if an illness or injury of a team member opens a roster spot.

USA Cycling met the maximum quota of six athletes, set by the UCI, for women’s endurance events in track cycling, which includes the two events on which Ryan competes – Team Pursuit and Madison. By winning the 2020 Track World Championships in the Team Pursuit for the US, the foursome of Chloe Dygert, Jennifer Valente, Emma White, and Lily Williams earned automatic places for the Olympic Games.

They’ll be joined by 19-year-old Megan Jastrab when Team Pursuit qualifying begins on August 2. Jastrab will team with Valente in the Madison on August 6, which is the first time the ‘American’ event, named after its original home at Madison Square Garden in New York, will offer medals for women.

“When I first started on this journey to make the team, I just wanted to race the Madison. I wanted to be part of the first American women pair to race it in the Olympics, I thought that would be so special,” Ryan reflected.

“You're constantly scanning the track in front of you for riders being slung in, passing riders on the right side during an exchange, always being aggressive and racing forward, timing sprints every 10 laps, setting up your partner for the sprint or being slung in at the optimal time for a sprint, dodging crashes, being in the right position to make a clean exchange so your partner is safe, and lapping the field; there is always something happening.

“It is organized chaos and I love it. I love being part of a team and having a teammate to share experiences with are more fun.”

The team aspect with L39ION of Los Angeles has kept her on top of her game off the track. In seven crits this year with USA CRITS and USA Cycling Pro Road Tour, she’s been on the podium six times, winning twice and helping her teammate Skylar Schneider win three times. And she grabbed the US Pro Criterium title, with a dominating performance to distance Olympian and Team DSM’s Jastrab in the final lap.

Ryan will miss a pair of USA CRITS events in Utah this weekend to prep on the track in Los Angeles, then on July 25 will travel with her Olympic teammates to Japan. But once qualifying begins, reserve riders are no longer permitted at the field of play, in this case the track at the Izu Velodrome. And because the Olympic Games in Japan will not have spectators, due to COVID-19 coronavirus concerns, she may be home watching on television.

“I will probably be screaming at a television screen like the rest of the world,” she laughed.

“So I will go to Tokyo and be there in support of the team and be ready to step up to the plate if I'm needed. But in my head I've already switched gears to thinking a few years down the road. This experience will give me some insight into what it's like to be at the Olympics, so that for Paris when I make the team I'll be ready to win a medal.”

Jackie Tyson

Jackie has been involved in professional sports for more than 30 years in news reporting, sports marketing and public relations. She founded Peloton Sports in 1998, a sports marketing and public relations agency, which managed projects for Tour de Georgia, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Cycling. She also founded Bike Alpharetta Inc, a Georgia non-profit to promote safe cycling for people of all abilities and ages. Tyson has been recognized for communications excellence with 10 Phoenix Awards, presented by the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp - and was recognized by a national media outlet as the first female depicted in a pro baseball card set (Ft. Myers Royals). She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times. Her favorite road rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields in  Provence (France). Her favorite mountain bike rides are in Park City, Utah (USA).