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The road to the Tokyo Olympic Games for USA Cycling goes straight through Yorkshire.
So much so, the U.S. team bypassed on a chance to win the new mixed relay time trial event last weekend because so much was hanging in the balance in the individual race against the clock this week.
USA barnstormed to a gold medal and two more top-10s in the women’s race, as well as a top-10 in the men’s — results that all have implications for Tokyo.
As a top-30 nation in the UCI rankings, USA had booked one start slot in the women’s and men’s time trial at Tokyo. However, with top-10 placings at the world championships time trial unlocking additional start slots in the Olympic event, USA opted not to risk its prize assets in the mixed relay.
Sources at USA Cycling told Velonews on Thursday “the focus this year is on qualifying Olympic slots. Next year we will be part of the mixed relay.”
On paper, USA had a strong chance at gaining a podium slot at the new mixed team time trial event, which made its worlds debut on Sunday. With Chloe Dygert Owen, Leah Thomas, Amber Neben, Lawson Craddock, and Chad Haga already in the UK to race their respective time trial events, extending schedules by a few days and adding one rider to the mix would have left the USA with a fearsome squad.
However, as the racing so far has shown, racing on Yorkshire roads carries a strong element of risk, with wheel-deep rain puddles, narrow roads, and twisting lanes leading to a number of crashes through the week. Add to that the risk of riders touching wheels in the high octane environment of a team time trial, and USA cycling’s decision was made.
Rather than risking one, or all, of their flagship time trialists hitting the deck and jeopardizing their individual time trial hopes, USA cycling looked to the longer goal of Tokyo.
With a second Olympics slot in the bag for both the men’s and women’s races in 2020 as a result of the strong showing in Yorkshire, USA Cycling’s decision looks to have been a wise one.
The world championships mixed relay looks here to stay, and the USA will be able to send its riders to the event in 2020. There was only chance to gain a key second spot at the Olympics, and the USA took it.