Back to the drawing board, says U.S. women’s team pursuit coach

After medal disappointment, riders and staff look for answers four months out from London

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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MELBOURNE, Australia (VN) — Silver medalists in the women’s team pursuit at the 2011 world track championships, Thursday evening in Melbourne’s Hisense Arena, the talented trio of Dotsie Bausch, Sarah Hammer and Lauren Tamayo was hoping to go as well, if not one better, at this year’s track worlds.

Unfortunately for them, despite posting the second-fastest time in U.S. history, the world record-breaking triplet from the 2010 Pan American Championships in Aguascalientes, Mexico, could only manage fifth place in the afternoon qualifying round, thus ruling them out of a shot at any color of medal at all.

In fact, their time of 3:21.765 seconds was more than a second slower than fourth-placed New Zealand — somewhat of a chasm in track cycling speak, where margins are often measured by thousandths of a second — and nearly five seconds off the mark set by Great Britain, who broke their previous world record set at the London round of the Track World Cup in February. To add insult to injury, the Brits broke their own world record again in the gold medal ride-off against Australia, setting a new benchmark of 3:15.720.

“I think we executed the ride exactly like we needed to,” Tamayo said after the trio’s ride Thursday. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite fast enough. It’s the fastest we’ve gone as a team since Aguascalientes, so you can’t ask for much more there.”

USA Cycling high performance endurance director and women’s pursuit coach, Benjamin Sharp, wasn’t feeling quite the same way. “We were a long way out of the bronze medal ride,” he told VeloNews in no uncertain terms.

“I can’t help but be disappointed when you have such a talented group of riders that have shown themselves to be medal-capable the last two years, and to not even be in the hunt for the medals just means that we still have a lot of work to do in the next couple of months.”

Were the girls’ times competitive leading into the meet? Were they at least posting 3:19’s or 3:20’s, which was the minimum required by Canada and New Zealand to find themselves in the bronze medal ride-off?

“We were. It’s pretty rare that you do a full-gas, full-distance, team pursuit — especially in the week leading into a competition, especially a big competition like the world championships or the Olympic Games. So we weren’t doing the full distance, but based on history and the splits that we were doing in the last two weeks, we figured we would be a little bit more competitive than we ended up being.

“The girls came off the track saying it was the best the team could be expected to do. So you can’t (criticize too much)… There’s a mixed emotion there. If you feel like your team did its best, you’ve got to be happy about that, but if your best isn’t good enough, then that’s a big wake-up call,” said Sharp.

Asked what needs to be done between now and the London Olympic Games — now just four months away — Sharp said it’s a matter of analyzing the data from the weeks preceding the track worlds and implementing a strategy that will lead to an enhanced performance, including making sure the quartet’s training (Jennie Reed is also part of the team pursuit line-up, although the final three will be chosen closer to London) is dead on target.

“I think when you see teams (like Great Britain and Australia) lay down times like that, it makes you realize how much more is possible. And you can look at a really fast time — our altitude world record (set in Aguascalientes) stood for quite a while; there were people making some assumptions that that time wouldn’t be surpassed until London — and now we’ve seen that broken three times, and several people have gone faster than that time, even if they didn’t necessarily win that competition,” Sharp said, in reference to the Australians, who, had the Brit’s times being excluded, would have broken the world record themselves.

Briton Jamie Staff, USA Cycling’s sprint director the past two years and gold medalist in the team sprint from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, said it’s really quite simple: spend much more time together, as the British and Australians do.

“You look at what the other nations are doing, and I can guarantee you, GB and Australia are training together as a group,” he told VeloNews. “We’ve just had a slightly different model with the U.S. girls; they’re basically four senior females brought together to form this team. And that’s hard.

“GB and Australia, they’re training together on the track every week as a team. And I think that’s definitely showing here, just the way they ride… you can see it on the video (replays), the way they’re riding, they’re a lot smoother (than the Americans). It’s just numbers of laps on the track, that’s all it is; training together, understanding how each other moves and works and performs, and pushing each other on.”

Still, it’s not all bad news.

“I think they (the U.S. women’s team pursuit squad) can make top-four (in London),” Staff predicted. “They’ve definitely got their work cut out to get gold or silver. But I think bronze is within their reach, if they come together and work a bit more.”

Indeed, while much talk has been centered on the level of funding that the coterie from Great Britain enjoys and Staff was once a recipient of, Sharp implies it’s more about nurturing than funding, even if you wouldn’t see him knocking back a near-limitless pool of cash.

“Well, I’m from a country of 300 million people. So, the talent is there,” he said. “It’s just a matter of finding that talent, (and) developing that talent… It’s not always about funding, but that would certainly make a lot of our jobs… I wouldn’t say easier, but make us a lot more effective at our job.”

Realizing life in advertising was nothing like Mad Men and buoyed by the Olympic Games in his Australian hometown of Sydney, Anthony Tan turned his back on a lucrative copywriting career in 2000 in pursuit of something more cerebral. Combining wordsmithing with his experiences as an A-Grade club racer and an underwhelming season competing in Europe, a career as a cycling scribe beckoned… More than a dozen Grand Tours and countless Classics later, it’s where he still is today. He has been a contributor to VeloNews since 2006. In 2010, he won Cycling Australia’s media award for best story. Follow him on Twitter: @anthony_tan

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