An obscure young rider won the first of three road racing trials to determine the men's Olympic road cycling team. The big winner may have been Lance Armstrong, America's strongest rider.
Chris Horner, a 24-year-old rider in his sixth season of cycling, edged a veteran with the powerful Motorola team, Frankie Andreu, by a few bike lengths to win the opener.Points accumulated in the three road races and two individual time trials will determine two of the five spots on the men's Olympic road team. Armstrong, by virtue of his top 15 world ranking automatically qualified, and the remaining two spots will be filled by the coaches.
But to win an Olympic medal, Armstrong will have to depend on strong teammates to fight off attacks by other riders, help him draft, much as auto racers do, and block moves by other teams to catch him should Armstrong ride off the front.
Horner had no qualms about deferring to Armstrong should he end up as an Olympic teammate.
"He definitely will be our best hope at the Olympics," Horner said. "He's definitely the best in the U.S."
Hormer won Sunday with a time of 5 hours, 20 minutes, 31 seconds.
"I think it pretty much went the way it was supposed to go - except for me winning," he said. "That's the big surprise, I guess."
The performance by the Lemon Grove, Calif., rider was not a complete surprise. He captured a stage at the Tour DuPont, won by Armstrong last week, and was second in the Redlands Classic earlier this year.
Horner was in a breakaway group of four riders that took off from the main pack about halfway through the 10-lap race over the 12.6-mile hilly course.
The most impressive show came when Andreu, a teammate of Armstrong's, made a solo run to catch the breakaway, several minutes ahead. The effort took its toll, but Andreu said it was not the reason he lost.
"At the end of the race I didn't have a sprint left," said Andreu, 29, of Dearborn, Mich. "I was chasing down a lot of attacks about the last lap and a half. That was what wore out my legs.
"I could tell the last five kilometers he was going to win. My legs just wore out."
Chris Carmichael, the national coaching director of the U.S. Cycling Federation, said he liked the way Horner took his turn at the front of the group to allow the other riders in the break to draft behind him.
"He's the man to beat at this time in the Olympic trials," Carmichael said.
Carmichael also said Andreu's effort bridging the gap between the pack and the breakaway group made a strong impression.
"I saw some big moves by some riders out there," Carmichael said. "I wasn't really disappointed by anything."