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Cyclists Predict a Rough Ride

Stretches of cobblestone along road race course raise concerns about Tour-style crashes.

August 13, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — Although it will be a beautiful trip for the eyes, a travel poster for Athens with the passes in front of the glimmering Acropolis, several cyclists said Thursday that the course for Saturday's Olympic road race was unnecessarily dangerous.

"I know it's not easy to come up with a course through a city like this," said Tyler Hamilton, a member of the U.S. team. "I know they want the course to go past the Acropolis and to make the city look good. But I wish they'd check with the cyclists. There are places where, instead of going left-right-left-right, it seemed like you could have just gone left. It's going to be dangerous. There will be crashes."

It wasn't only Americans who voiced concern after teams had been allowed their first training rides on the circuit.

The men's course is an 8.2-mile circuit through Athens. Riders make the loop 17 times for a total ride of 139.4 miles. Like the pavement on some early Tour de France stages that caused serious crashes, there are cobblestone portions.

"The stones are beautiful," said French rider Thomas Voeckler, who held the leader's yellow jersey during the Tour de France for more than a week, "but after you pass them a few times, they will be painful. And as we saw at the Tour, they can be dangerous. It's not hard to have a crash."

George Hincapie of the U.S. team also noted that the road was covered with a sheen of motor oil.

"You expect that in a city, but combined with the tight turns, it makes things tough," he said. "This is going to be a dangerous ride."

U.S. men's Coach Jim Ochowicz called the course "technical."

U.S. rider Levi Leipheimer said he was going to be cautious in the early going.

"People are going to go down," he said. "It's a bit of a scary ride. I know this. I'm going to back off in the early going. You might have to do some tough riding to catch up to the gap. But that's better than crashing."

Hamilton pulled up his shirt to show off five shiny bruises, the ones that caused him to abandon the Tour de France during the 13th stage.

"The Tour de France was dangerous too in the early going," Hamilton said. "I'm still healing from that one.

"This is something we have to talk about after the season. The cyclists need more input in these things."

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