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TT medal hopes for USA squad

Potentially the strongest squad on the startlist

Trio of American women pursue medals

USA Cycling media release

The 2006 UCI Road World Championships open Wednesday in Salzburg with the elite women's and U23 men's time trial competitions. Five Americans are slated to start in the race against the clock, including three women who placed in the top eight at the 2005 world championships.

The elite women's trio of Kristin Armstrong (Team Lipton), Amber Neben (Buitenpoort-Flexpoint) and Christine Thorburn (Webcor-Platinum) is arguably the deepest roster of any country and all three should be considered medal contenders if previous competition is any indication.

Last year's bronze medallist behind defending champion Karen Thürig (SUI) and silver medallist Joanne Somarriba, Armstrong is coming off an overall victory at the Euregio Ladies Tour where a 27-second win in the opening stage time trial gave her all the time needed to win the four-stage race. Consistently one of the top time trialists in the international peleton, Armstrong gave the U.S. its first podium finish since 2000 when Mari Holden won a world title in Plouay, France. The 2004 Olympic Team member recently claimed her second-consecutive national time trial title at the USA Cycling National Festival at Seven Springs in July.

Neben earned a start in the time trial with a victory at the Pan American Championships earlier this summer in Brazil. Her second-consecutive Tour de l'Aude title in May - arguably the most prestigious women's event in the world - was a result of several strong performances in the event's three time trial stages. Neben was the second-fastest American finisher at the 2005 world championships, placing fifth, 57 seconds off the winning pace.

Eighth in the world championships a year ago, Thorburn gives the U.S. a third rider capable of finishing on the podium. Her fourth-place finish at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens shows her strength against a major international field, while a win at this year's Grand Tour du Montreal after a victory the opening stage time trial illustrates her current abilities as a contender in 2006.

Standing in the way of the American women will be a plethora of international talent led by Judith Arndt of Germany and two-time defending champion Karen Thürig of Switzerland. In the last five years, Arndt has twice placed second (2003, '04) and has placed in the top five two other times with a fourth-place effort last year and a fifth-place finish in 2001. Given the course's technical nature and the amount of climbing, Arndt is considered one of the heavy favourites. Thürig's two victories in 2004 and 2005 were preceded by a fourth-place finish in 2003 and a bronze-medal effort in 2002, making the 2004 Olympic bronze medallist one of the more decorated elite women's time trialists in the last five years.

Other international competitors expected to be in the medal mix include Christiane Soeder (AUT), Zoulifa Zabirova (KAZ), Edita Pucinskaite (LTU), Jeanie Longo-Ciprelli (FRA), Trixi Worrack (GER), Oenone Wood (AUS), Nicole Brändli (SUI) and Priska Doppman (SUI).

With a bronze medal already on her résumé, Armstrong will be one of three Americans in the hunt for a medal, competing on a course that suits her strengths.

"The course suits me well," commented Armstrong after the early afternoon training session on Tuesday. "It's very technical in the beginning and the climbs are short and steep and not super long. Last year was a big result or me, and it's only natural to want to do even better. Last year I certainly had expectations coming into the world championships, but this year I've definitely set them as one of my larger goals for the year. In general, we have three really strong people, so hopefully one of us will have a good day."

Asked who the favourites will be, Armstrong recognized the winner of the last two world titles, Thürig and the host country's Christiane Soeder.

"It's all going to come down to who has the perfect day," explained Armstrong. "Christiane had a really good time trial in France last week [at the Chrono Champenois] where she placed second to Karen by less than a second in a 45-minute race. Usually nobody comes that close to Karen in a time trial, so both Karen and Christiane are both going really good right now."

 

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