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Eki’ comes close to defending his 2000 gold
By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
As the sun crept above the horizon, bringing dawn to a new day here in Athens, Tyler Hamilton awoke with a terrible case of nerves.
The afternoon Olympic time trial that awaited him was his last shot to truly erase the disappointment of his failed Tour de France bid a month earlier. Hamilton had said all week he had a good feeling about the 48km race to be contested in the southern suburbs of Greece’s capital, but now it was time to deliver.
Half a day later the nice guy of American cycling had seen his premonition come true, besting reigning Olympic TT champion Viatcheslav Ekimov on a breezy and balmy day along the Saronic Gulf. In the moments after Hamilton crossed the line, he dropped his bike and helmet to the ground, then grasped his hands around his head in disbelief.
“I was incredibly nervous,” said Hamilton, who posted a mark of 57:31.74, 18.84 ahead of Ekimov and 26.45 better than U.S. teammate Bobby Julich, who took the bronze. “Cycling has its ups and downs, but if you can’t deal with the low moments then you’re in the wrong sport. July was terrible, but days like today outweigh all the bad days. Now all that is just a memory in the back of my mind.”
Indeed, after coming into the 2004 Tour as one of Lance Armstrong’s chief rivals, Hamilton was caught up in a pile-up during stage six and was out of the race 83km into stage 13 with a back injury. From there he returned to his European base in Spain and took a week off the bike. He was hopeful that the body would come around in time to get ready for the Olympics, but there was no guarantee.
“I gave it a week and told myself if I wasn’t feeling better I wouldn’t race in Athens,” said Hamilton, who still had the brusies from the crash when he arrived at the Olympics.
The body did come around, though, and Hamilton spent most of the next month focusing on the Athens time trial, training later in the day to mimic the heat he was sure to face. Come race day the key was to stay calm. Hamilton admitted that he’s had a tendency to go out of the gate too fast.
“I was a little excited at first,” he said. “But I backed off some. I didn’t want to explode.”
At the first two splits on the rolling out-and-back course, Hamilton sat third behind the Russian Ekimov and reigning world time trial champion Michael Rogers of Australia. But from there the Massachusetts native twisted the throttle to full. He was the leader on the road 36km into the race, and his scorching final quarter time of 14:08.37 was 14 seconds better than Ekimov.
Rogers, meanwhile, was fading. His final quarter time was only fifth fastest, dropping him to fourth in the final standings. Even more stunning was the performance of pre-race favorite Jan Ullrich. The German never found his rhythm, posting the No. 8 mark at the quarter point, then gaining only once place the rest of the way. Ullrich hung his head as he crossed the line, then disappeared down a side street, with only a single photographer chasing behind him.
At the same time Julich was rolling up to the still shocked Hamilton, then embracing his teammate as the pair stood in the middle of the finishing road. Their two medals, plus the silver won by Dede Barry in the women’s time trial, capped the greatest day the U.S. cycling has ever had at the Olympics.
Julich’s ride completed a startling transformation for the one-time Tour de France runner-up. A year ago the 32-year-old had contemplated quitting the sport, but after signing on with CSC in the offseason, he’s enjoyed some of the best form of his career.
“This wasn’t my kind of course,” said Julich of the track that was all about power, with few twists or turns. “But this just goes to show that morale is such a big part of this sport. After 1998 I was bombarded with all this negative pressure, but the change in teams has really helped change things for me.”
Julich’s performance was all the more remarkable considering he was riding with a broken right wrist, which also came from a crash at this year’s Tour. He said it wasn’t bothering him all that much while riding, but in the days leading up to the race a doctor had told him he needed to get a cast on it as soon as possible because it wasn’t healing properly.
“I’ll probably get that done today or tomorrow,” he said. “I’m going to try to get something that I’ll be able to mold to my handlebars.”
Not to be outdone was Ekimov. At 38 his mere presence on the podium was stunning. The U.S. Postal pro had the fastest opening 12km on his way to a second straight Olympic Games medal.
“It was a good course for me, very straightforward” he said. “On the second lap I just lost some power, especially on the last climb.”
But this day clearly belonged to Hamilton. Despite a host of great victories during his career, he has always ridden in the long shadow of Armstrong. But with this storybook ending to what had been such an up and down season, he’s steeped out into the sun just a little more. “Lance put us all on the board,” said Hamilton. “But Dede, Bobby and I showed that U.S. cycling has a great future.”
Cycling now takes a day off at the Olympics, before six days of track racing commence on Friday. Check back to VeloNews.com then for results and reports everyday.
1. Tyler Hamilton (USA) 57:31 (50.060kph)
2. Viatcheslav Ekimov (Russia), at 0:19
3. Bobby Julich (USA), at 0:27
4. Michael Rogers (Australia), at 0:30
5. Michael Rich (Germany), at 0:38
6. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan), at 1:27
7. Jan Ullrich (Germany), at 1:31
8. Santiago Botero Echeverri (Colombia), at 1:33
9. Igor Gonzalez De Galdeano (Spain), at 1:56
10. Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland), at 2:09
11. Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukraine), at 2:18
12. Christophe Moreau (France), at 2:19
13. Marc Wauters (Belgium), at 2:28
14. Michal Hrazdira (Czech Republic), at 2:36
15. Victor Hugo Peña Grisales (Colombia), at 2:38
16. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Spain), at 2:51
17. Rene Andrle (Czech Republic), at 2:56
18. Eric Wohlberg (Canada), at 3:00
19. Peter Van Petegem (Belgium), at 3:04
20. Frank Hoj (Denmark), at 3:06
21. Thomas Dekker (Netherlands), at 3:07
22. Laszlo Bodrogi (Hungary), at 3:13
23. Serguei Gonchar (Ukraine), at 3:29
24. Evgeny Vakker (Kyrgyzstan), at 3:50
25. Sergio Paulinho (Portugal), at 3:54
26. Benoit Joachim (Luxembourg), at 4:19
27. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Norway), at 4:39
28. Rubens Bertogliati (Switzerland), at 4:45
29. Evgeni Petrov (Russia), at 5:19
30. Stuart Dangerfield (Great Britain), at 5:29
31. Dawid Krupa (Poland), at 5:35
32. Thor Hushovd (Norway), at 5:39
33. Heath Blackgrove (New Zealand), at 5:48
34. Thomas Lujngvist (Sweden), at 6:12
35. Gorazd Stangelj (Slovenia), at 6:14
36. Matej Jurco (Slovakia), at 6:51
37. Slawomir Kohut (Poland), at 8:46