Where are America's top bicyclists coming from?
Mostly from the past.
When the three-day NEC World Cycling Invitational opens today at the Olympic Velodrome at Cal State Dominguez Hills, the American team will include most of the top U.S. riders going back to the 1984--and even 1980--Olympic teams.
On one hand, that means cyclists are finally receiving enough backing to make a living and stay in the sport. But it also means that few world-class riders have emerged to challenge the old guard in this country since early in the decade.
The NEC Invitational is a unique eight-team tournament, featuring many of the world's top cyclists. They will be competing for $100,000 in prize money, the biggest purse ever offered for track races according to promoters. Unlike in most cycling events, the money will be awarded for team finish, much like a track meet, instead of to individual winners.
East Germany dropped out because of its recent political unrest and was replaced by a strong Danish team. Even without East Germany, which is strong in sprints, most of the world's top track riders will be in competition, with teams representing the Soviet Union, Japan, France, Italy, Australia and West Germany as well as the U.S. and Denmark.
The U.S. roster is a familiar one, led by veteran sprinters Mark Gorski and Connie Paraskevin-Young, 1987 Pan American gold medalist Ken Carpenter and relative newcomers Janie Eickhoff, Craig Schommer and Jim Pollak. Eickhoff is strong in both sprints and distances. Schommer and Pollak were members of the 1989 world champion points team.
Gorski, 29, and Paraskevin-Young are America's most honored track riders and, along with Greg LeMond, have been the big names in American cycling throughout the 1980s. Paraskevin-Young says that's partly because top riders have been able to make a respectable living the last few years, and partly a reflection of slippage in America's training program since a strong showing in the 1984 Olympics.
Paraskevin-Young, an Olympic veteran in both cycling and speed skating at 28, said, "We need new blood, but you (also) like to see some of the same names. 1984 was the first time we had corporate support and it's allowed some of the 'older' riders to stay on the cycling team."
However, she added, the U.S. training effort needs to be bolstered to get back to the level of the dominant East European riders, and to keep abreast of up-and-coming France and 1992 Olympic host Spain. The U.S. showing in Seoul was considered a step back from 1984.
"The U.S. is on a downturn right now," she said. "There's a lack of leadership to some extent. The USSR and East Germany are still real strong. . . . And France did very well in the Worlds."
Tonight's session will start at 7 with a pursuit race. There will also be preliminary sprints, kilometer points race and a Keirin (motorcycle-paced) race. Racing continues at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The field includes Soviet stars Viacheslav Ekimov, a 1988 Olympic gold medalist; Erika Salumyae, former world sprint champion; Galina Tsareva, six-time world champion, and Alexander Kiritchenko, 1988 Olympic gold medalist. Other outstanding cyclists are 1988 Olympic gold medalist Dan Frost of Denmark; 1989 world gold medalist Frederick Magne and rising distance star Catherine Marsal of France, and former world champion Martin Vinnicombe of Australia.