In 10 days, USA Cycling will announce its final selections for its 2012 Olympic Games road teams, and competing for the country's sole individual time trial spot is US time trial champion David Zabriskie (Garmin-Barracuda) and BMC's Taylor Phinney. With Beijing bronze medalist Levi Leipheimer still recovering from a leg injury, Zabriskie and Phinney can make equally strong cases for their selection as no rider has met the automatic selection criteria.
Zabriskie is a five-time national champion who has won time trials in the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, and he has taken the silver medal in the world championships. Phinney is a former U23 world time trial champion, elite world individual pursuit champion with the Giro d'Italia prologue win fresh in his palmares.
Speaking after the Tour of California where he dominated the Bakersfield time trial, Zabriskie said he was motivated to perform in order to gain an Olympic bid, and said the selection committee should "take who [they] think is the best. It's pretty simple."
But Phinney is also dreaming of watching the official counting the seconds down for him on the start ramp in London, and made his case for his selection to Cyclingnews.
"I'm a big fan of Dave, am a good friend of his, and have a huge amount of respect for him. I've grown up watching him race, but I'd be stupid not to make a case for myself.
"According to the automatic selection criteria for Olympic time trial, we had to place in the top three in a Grand Tour time trial over 40km [in length]. The only result of that kind in the last year and a half is my fifth place in the Vuelta, unfortunately I was 11 seconds off of third place."
Zabriskie was given the support of two other competitors for the Olympic berth: his teammate Tom Danielson and Phinney's teammate Tejay Van Garderen.
"I think Dave's the best time trialist in the world and I think it's a no-brainer to take him for the time trial," Danielson said in California. "I think he earned his spot twice this year. Obviously, his first win in Langkawi not many people saw because he was on a road bike and not very many people follow that race. I saw it and he was phenomenal the first stage of the race. And then obviously here he dominated during a very difficult course."
Van Garderen was also realistic about his own chances, and said he is not really a single-day time trial specialist even though he does well in stage race tests.
"I definitely want to do the road race and I think with my history of one day races that I've shown that I can be a good competitor and a hard worker for the team when it comes to a hard one-day race. But as far as the time trial, unless I prove myself to be the front runner, I still have enough American pride ... I want someone to go who has the best chance to medal and right now that's looking like Zabriskie."
The USA only qualified one spot because it failed to place a rider in the top 10 of the 2011 UCI road world championship time trial. Phinney was the top rider from the country in 15th, while Zabriskie chose to skip Worlds because he hadn't properly recovered from a crash in the Tour de France.
Participation in the Tour de France is also one of the factors the selection committee will have to consider: Phinney raced the Giro d'Italia and will not compete in the Tour, while Zabriskie is likely to be an important member of the Garmin-Barracuda team.
"If [Olympic] selection happens, I'll have to discuss with the team and try to get as much support as possible," Zabriskie said.
Neither Phinney nor Zabriskie are Olympic novices: Zabriskie was 12th in the time trial in Beijing, while Phinney competed there in the individual pursuit, taking seventh.
"I'm up and coming and only getting better, and I can handle pressure very well, as documented by the first stage of the Giro this year. At the end of the day, whether the selectors pick Dave or pick me for the time trial spot, we're going to have a very good representative for the United States at the Olympic Games, and that's the most important thing."
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