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28th Olympic Games - JO

Athens, Greece, August 14-28, 2004

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August 18: Men's time trial, 48km

Men's time trial wide open

Dark horse Gonchar threatens conventional wisdom

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

Jan Ullrich (R) and Erik Zabel
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The Athens Olympic time trial course is an out and back 24km run that starts in the coastal town of Vouliagmeni in Attica. The race starts and finishes in front of town hall on Athinas Avenue, then heads south to the coastal road, past Variza beach and east to the turnaround at the Agia Marina. The parcours runs along the Aegean Sea and will be blown by the South-Southwest Meltemia winds that will increase as Wednesday afternoon continues. The men will ride two laps of the course.

Conventional wisdom says this time trial will see Jan 'The Man' Ullrich battle Tyler 'The Man From Marblehead' Hamilton for the gold medal. But lurking in the wings is the most ambitious and perhaps the strongest TT man on Planet Earth: Serguei Gonchar (Ukraine). After his superb ride in the Giro to finish second overall and win both time trials, Gonchar has focused 100 percent on winning this 48km men's Olympic time trial. Although the up and down course may not suit the Ukrainian and his 55 x 11 perfectly, Gonchar will be tough to beat for the gold.

Victor Hugo Pena Grisales
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Jan Ullrich is a super-talent, but his performance and form in last Saturday's men's road race seemed to be less than 100 percent. Ullrich may end up with another TT silver medal to match his Sydney performance, but if all his undoubted class and talent shows up Wednesday, he will be hard to beat. American Tyler Hamilton is the best chance for a medal the United States has in cycling at this year's Olympic Games, and if his back is healed from his Tour de France crash one month ago, Hamilton could beat everyone on the windy, hilly coastal course that is similar to his hometown in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Sentimentally, defending Olympic Champ Viatcheslav Ekimov (Russia) is positioned as a favorite but at 38 years old, he may no longer be capable of pulling out a surprise win in Athens as he did four years ago in Sydney.

Other riders who have the talent to back up their Olympic TT aspirations are de facto current world champion Mick Rogers (Australia), TT specialist Michael Rich (Germany), Tour de France prologue winner Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) and in-form Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (Spain). Talented youngsters to watch are Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Spain), Evgeni Petrov (Russia), Thomas Dekker (Netherlands) and Filippo Pozzato (Italy). Men's road race silver medalist Sergio Paulinho (Portugal) - his nation's TT champ - will be looking to back up his weekend performance and you can never write off Kazakhstan's hard man Alexandre Vinokourov, who was shut out of the medals last weekend and is now looking to take home some Olympic TT hardware.

The men's time trial starts at 15:00 local time (22:00 Australia east; 05:00 US west; 08:00 US east; 13:00 UK). Riders will start at 90 second intervals in three groups of 13 or 14, with the second group starting at 16:00 and the third at 17:00.

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