U.S. cycling plagued with misfortune in first weekend of Olympics
LONDON (AP) -- Taylor Phinney's fourth-place finish. Kristin Armstrong's crash on a rain-slicked road course. Shelley Olds' flat tire at the most inopportune of times.
They came into the London Games brimming with confidence. Instead, close calls and lousy luck have conspired against the U.S. cycling team, which has already experienced enough misfortune to last them the rest of the Olympics.
It all began on the sun-splashed roads of The Mall on Saturday.
Timmy Duggan and Tejay van Garderen spent most of the day helping to dictate the pace of the men's road race, flashing the red, white and blue of the American team for the TV cameras. But it was Phinney who found himself helping to lead the decisive attack late in the game.
While never among the favorites - Wednesday's time trial is more suited to his strengths - the former individual pursuit world champion nonetheless put his massive motor to work.
Grinding his gears and turning the final five miles into his own impromptu time trial, Phinney found himself in a head-to-head sprint with Norway's Alexander Kristoff for bronze. The two riders barreled down London's most famous thoroughfare, only for Kristoff to edge Phinney at the finish.
"Fourth seems like it would be nice, but it's the worst thing I can imagine, to be honest with you," Phinney said afterward. "I'm going to try not to think about this race too much."
That may prove hard to do.
Phinney carries some massive expectations as the son of Olympic gold medalist Connie Carpenter-Phinney and bronze medalist Davis Phinney, two of the stars of the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
The charismatic young rider also would have been favored in the individual pursuit, but his signature track event was dropped from the program after the Beijing Games, forcing him to shift his focus to the road race and time trial.
"I'll have the individual time trial on Wednesday," Phinney reasoned, "and that's like a very long individual pursuit. An individual pursuit, times 11."
Armstrong will also have a chance to rebound in the time trial.
The defending Olympic champion played the role of consummate teammate in the women's road race Sunday, helping to pull back every breakaway and set up Olds for a sprint to the finish.
Armstrong was near the climb of Box Hill when her tires slid out on the rain-slicked roads of the Surrey countryside. She managed to pick herself off the tarmac with only some bumps and bruises, but the spill - and the cold, wet weather - appeared to have taken their toll.
Her lips were blue when she finally crossed the finish line.
Armstrong refused to speak to the media Monday, but USA Cycling spokeswoman Andrea Smith said that Armstrong would be fine to start the time trial.
All those disappointments were nothing compared to what befell Olds, though.
With only about 30 miles left Sunday, the sprint specialist managed to jump into the winning breakaway of eventual champion Marianne Vos, Elizabeth Armitstead and Olga Zabelinskaya. The four worked in unison through a driving rainstorm to distance themselves from the main field.
Until dastardly luck struck: a punctured tire.
Olds pulled off to the side and waited for a neutral support vehicle, but by the time the flat tire was changed, the rest of the field was already upon her.
"That was not on my mind at all, to see her on the side of the road," teammate Amber Neben said. "I said, 'Huh, somebody flatted.' And then I said, 'Huh, somebody from the break flatted.' And then you see the American jersey and you say, 'Oh, my gosh, of all things."'
The American team regrouped with Evelyn Stevens leading the charge, trying desperately to bring back the three riders left at the front. They never managed to recapture much time. Vos ended up beating Armitstead for the gold medal, and Zabelinskaya came across for bronze.
"I'm really devastated because I believe I definitely could have medaled," Olds said. "That was the winning move and I was in it. Seventh place, I guess I can be sort of happy with that, but when you're that close to a medal and then you're in seventh, then it's different."
It seems that even Zabelinskaya, a time trial specialist, knew she would have had a difficult time holding off Olds in the final sprint.
"At one point I thought that if we were still four in the home stretch I could well end up without a medal," she said. "After Shelley dropped out, I worked harder to stay in this break."
Olds' seventh-place finish was still the best for an American woman in the Olympic road race since Jeanne Golay ended sixth in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992.
It wasn't what she wanted, though.
The same could be said for the entire U.S. team all weekend.