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Feature, May 31, 2007

North Americans put on strong Pan-American Championships show

Several days of Pan-Am competition
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Road and track competitors from North and South America came together for the Pan-American Championships in Valencia, Venezuela, May 21-27. Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski and Kirsten Robbins took a look at how the North American racers fared in the Continental Championship road and track events, where invitations to the World Championships and UCI points were up for grabs.

Canada's Gilbert wins men's road race while American men focus on track

The US and Canadian men's teams had an apparent difference in focus for the Pan-American Championships, with the US sending men only for the track racing and the Canadians sending a men's team with road strength. The results certainly reflected this with Canada's Martin Gilbert winning the men's road race and Zachary Bell taking second in the time trial. On the track, the US men's team finished with four medals led by Brad Huff, who opened with a gold medal in the omnium and went on to capture another with Colby Pearce in the madison.

Gilbert's win was even more impressive since Canada was at a disadvantage in terms of manpower. "The result is even more satisfying because we had a five-rider Canadian team while other countries fielded as many as ten," said Kris Westwood, high performance program director for the Canadian Cycling Association. "Martin rode well. He capitalized on an opportunity to breakaway and took the lead."

"I wasn't pleased with my track results this week so this is a confidence booster," Gilbert said. "With 25 kilometres to go, I saw an opportunity to catch [the] two riders ahead of me. There was one Venezuelan and a Mexican." Gilbert used the next five kilometers to reel the two leaders by himself. Once there, he put in a final attack and managed to hold on for the win. "I made an attack and I kept the lead in a sprint to the finish." Those other two riders, Manuel Medina (Venezuela) and Carlos Hernandez (Mexico) finished second and third, respectively.

"I hope I'll now be considered for the road racing pool and compete more often in the road events," added Gilbert, who is headed to Philly-week for more races next week.

Westwood was happiest with the road race victory because of what it means for the entire team for the next Olympics. "Martin's victory allows us to earn valuable Olympic qualifying points. I believe it is the first road race victory for Canada at the Pan Am championships. It was more important for us to win here than at the Pan Am Games in July. Those Games are not an Olympic qualifying event."

Day 2 of track racing
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Also helping Canada in this regard was the silver medal performance by Zac Bell in the time trial. "That just confirms that Zac has a lot of talent," said Kris Westwood, high performance program director for the Canadian Cycling Association. "He's consistently improving in the time trial. He's in the best shape of his career thanks to many hours training on the track this winter."

The time trial was dominated by Libardo Niņo (Colombia) who finished more than a minute ahead of Bell and the rest of twenty-seven starters.

On the track, the US team took three gold medals and a silver. Following Huff's two golds was Michael Blatchflord out-sprinting Julio Herrera (Cuba) to take the gold in the match sprint. Herrera himself had an impressive track series with a gold medal in the keirin, as did the entire Cuban team with a gold in the team sprint. Cuba's Ahmed Lopez won the 1km time trial for his team as well. Finishing second in the team sprint was the US team, comprised of Blatchflord, Adam Duvendeck, and Kevin Selker. Duvendeck also nearly made it five medals for the US with a fourth place in the keirin.

The Colombian and Chilean men's track teams also faired well with Colombian Arles Castro winning the points race and Carlos Alzate winning the 4km pursuit. Both also rode with their team to the gold in the pursuit. Chile's Luis Mansilla took the gold in the scratch race.

One thing the North American teams noticed was a general us-versus-them mentality. "It's a different atmosphere down there," said Huff. "It wasn't huge numbers of guys, but any time you race in South America, they race hard. It's like we have bullseyes on our backs and those guys are racing for paychecks to survive. Every South American country against us -- a collective chase whenever a North American attacked. We tried to team up with Canada a few times but there is only so much you can do."

While Venezuela may have lacked some of the comforts of home, the velodrome facility was on par. "The track was really nice -- it was a fairly fast track," said Huff. "We were pleasantly surprised."

Like the Canadians in the road and time trial races, the US team was looking for Olympic qualifying points on the track. This racing meant that riders like Huff, who have a full road schedule, would have to put their training schedule on hold for a week. "I was worried I would be shooting myself in the foot, but going there and performing well was a big boost," he said. "Plus it's one of the first opportunities to gain points for the Olympics. Philly week was in the back of my mind -- spinning around the track isn't really what I need to be doing to prepare, but I'm really glad."

US women bank world's invitations; Latin American women sweep the track

Jennie Reed (USA)(L) and Nancy Contreras (Mexico)
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USA Cycling was pleased with their women's team performance at the 2007 Pan American Championships held Valencia, Venezuela, in the road race and the time trial as both Tina Pic and Alison Powers won their respective events. Along with the gold medals came two continental invitations to the World Championships held in Stuttgart, Germany, this September.

While the US team dominated the road scene it was the Latin American nations which rounded up every medal in the track events, with the exception of American Jennie Reed who took the gold medal in the women's keirin and the silver medal in the women's sprint finals.

USA Cycling Athletics Director Pat McDonough commented on his team's performance overall and its importance to the near future of US cycling for the world championships and the following year's Olympics. "Our goals for Pan American Championships were to come away with gold medals and extra start position and we achieved all of those this year," McDonough said. "Our results at the Pan-Ams were major. Last year we went down and Amber Neben won the time trial and she came back with the continental invitation to worlds. When we went to the World Championships, our three women who were selected all placed in the top ten."

"We want to keep winning the invited spot each year because it gives more women a chance to compete at the World Championships," McDonough added. "The extra points gained at Pan American championships are also important for our ranking as a nation for the Olympics."

Alison Powers was a favorite to win the twenty-kilometer time trial and she did so in a time of 27'03", 28 seconds ahead of silver medallist Giussepina Grassy (Mexico) and 40 seconds ahead of bronze medallist Dotsie Bausch (USA).

Mexican Belem Guerrero leads
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The women's road race and time trial team was selected based on their submission of an event application. The three riders selected were teammates from the American domestic team Colavita/Sutter Home. After they won their own medals in the time trial, Powers and Bausch assisted Tina Pic in her road race title. The trio organized themselves in a lead out up the gradual climb to the finish where Pic won the field sprint ahead of Yumari Gonzales (Cuba) and Gina Grain (Canada). "They were the only ones who sent in an application and it ended up being that they are all from the same domestic team," McDonough said. "Because of that, it assisted them and they rode very well together as a team."

The Latin American countries dominated on the track in every discipline showcasing their pista prowess beginning with the Venezuelan duo Karelia Machado and Angie Gonzalez who won the team sprint competition. Belem Guerrero, a seasoned road sprinter from Mexico, accumulated with forty-six points in the points race, just five points ahead of silver medallist from Columbia Sandra Gomez. The "Cuban missile" Lizandra Guerra was the only double gold medallist after she won the women's sprint final and the 500-meter time trial back to back. Columbian sprinter, Elizabeth Augudelo took to gold in the scratch race while American Jennie Reed put her stamp on the women's keirin in the final track event.

McDonough commented on Jennie Reed's solo appearance at the Pan American Championships chalking it up to bad luck after World Champion Sarah Hammer had to pull out in the last minute due to injury and Becky Quinn suffered an illness upon arrival to Venezuela.


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Images by AFP Photo / Mexsport

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