Riders face toughest test yet

Heat, long-distance course presents major challenge for cyclists

Cyclists competing in this week's USA Cycling National Championships in Augusta have faced windy, wide-open conditions during the time trials at J. Strom Thurmond Dam and the tight, narrow roads of downtown Augusta in the National Criterium Championships.


Today's challenges might trump them all.

The five-day event will end today with the final portion of the national championship road races at the Major Matthew P. Burke, M.D. Championship Course at Fort Gordon. With most of the junior road races and paracycling events completed Saturday, the top talent in this year's field will take center stage starting at 8 a.m. today with the junior men 17-18 road race. The elite and U23 women are scheduled to start at 8:15 a.m. and the elite men will wrap up the day with a noon start.

Exposed to the rolling hills of the course and what is expected to be the warmest day of the championships, the cyclists will have to beat more than their fellow racers to claim a road national title.

"The heat is a big story line," USA Cycling's managing director of national events Micah Rice said. "The people that live in the Southeast understand what it's like when it's 100 degrees and 95 percent humidity. Hopefully (the riders) have prepared for it physically and mentally."

The 14.7-mile circuit at Fort Gordon offers little shade to riders. The women and junior men might dodge the hottest temperatures of the day because of their morning start, but there will be no avoiding the humidity and heat coming directly off the road.

The elite men will start in the heat of the day and will also cover the longest distance of the entire five-day event. Seven circuits around the course will span 168 kilometers. Last year's national championship road race in Bend, Ore., took eventual winner Michael Olheiser a little under four hours to complete and more than 70 percent of the field finished the race.

That time could increase and the completion percentage could fall under the hot Georgia sun when a field of more than 200 cyclists begins the men's elite race.

"Hopefully they're prepared," Rice said. "If it's 100 degrees on Fort Gordon -- which means it's about 115 on the road and the elite men are doing seven laps -- I would say you're looking at 20 percent of the starters finishing the event. I think that's a very realistic amount."

Friday's elite men criterium national championship went to David Wenger, who said cyclists who are already acclimated to the heat have a distinct advantage.

"I'm from Austin, Texas. It was about 103 degrees when we left," he said. "I purposely did rides starting at 103, going up to 106 and I knew I was going to be ready for the heat."

The Fort Gordon course, which runs along Range Road, was set up as a closed course by the 15th Regimental Signal Brigade, meaning spectators are welcomed to watch the race but only from the areas surrounding the start-finish line.

Awards ceremonies are scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. at the Fort Gordon course.

On tap today

WHAT: Road races in three divisions

WHEN: Junior men 17-18, 8 a.m.; elite and U23 women, 8:15; elite men, noon

WHERE: Major Matthew P. Burke, M.D. Championship Course at Fort Gordon