Cycling to Sydney
Olympic track racers convene in the Springs' velodrome

click to enlarge U.S Olympic track cyclist Erin Hartwell - SCOTT LARRICK

No doubt, they're nice people. Tanya Lindenmuth hopes to someday be a professional vocalist. Even when she is speaking, her voice is soft and flowing like a mountain stream.

Erin Hartwell aches to be with his family and dreams of sailing across the spring-green fields of Belgium.

But it is their determination, their focus, their matter-of-fact attitudes that hit you first. There will be time in the future for singing and families. For now, Lindenmuth and Hartwell wear the Stars and Stripes -- and all the pressure and hope that go with it -- on their backs.

They are U.S. Olympic track cyclists and they have big business to tend to. In one month they'll compete in the Summer Olympic games in Sydney, Australia.

Ten years separate them. Lindenmuth is 21 and preparing for her first Olympics. Hartwell, 31, has competed in two Olympic Games -- in '92 and '96. He has twice stepped onto the medal podium to claim silver and bronze medals for his performance in the one-kilometer time trial.

They're both in Colorado Springs, training at the 7-Eleven/OTC Velodrome where they'll compete Aug. 22-26 in the 2000 EDS National Cycling Championships.

The digital age

Elite cyclists are world travelers, always bouncing from continent to continent or criss-crossing the United States. Hartwell has sacrificed an everyday home life for his cycling career. Those are the rules for Olympic athletes. When you call the boss "Uncle Sam," and when you are paid with Olympic medals, everything else fades away.

Almost everything.

Three weeks ago Hartwell's wife, Maybritt, who used to compete on the Norwegian Olympic cycling team, gave birth to the couple's second son, Lars, in Norway. He hasn't held his new baby yet. He has only seen a digital picture on a computer screen.

"All I got were photos over the Internet," he said during practice on a hot day last week. "But this is business. This is what I have to do at the moment. The family understands. It's wearing me down at this point. I definitely want to see them."

Hartwell has excelled in the one-kilometer time trial, a leg-burning sprint against the clock. But knee problems -- he had surgery a few years back -- forced him to give up the eye-popping, colossal efforts of sprinting. He'll compete in the four-kilometer team pursuit in Sydney and at the national championships.

The team pursuit is fast, but gentle compared to the shorter track races. And it requires his full attention. Four other riders will race on the same team. Each must be supremely conditioned and skillful. They'll ride in a line, one behind the other only inches apart and share the responsibility of punching a hole through the air at the pack's front.

They'll ride against another team that begins the race on the opposite side of the track. Though it appears the idea is to catch the competition -- and in a sense it is -- the winner is the group with the fastest time.

A former track and field athlete in high school, Hartwell thought the decathlon would be his event. But in 1984, he saw Greg LeMond win the Tour de France and he became hooked on cycling. He quickly won a Junior National Championship. Then he competed at the Junior World Championships in Italy.

"Here I was, a young Indiana boy taking free trips to Europe," Hartwell said. "I knew then this was something I wanted to stick with."

Hartwell is ideally suited for Europe's famous one-day classics, grueling races like Paris-Roubaix, the famous cobblestone race through icy springtime winds in northern France, or the Tour of Flanders, an equally challenging romp through Belgium.

"Paris-Roubaix is definitely one of the coolest things you can see or do," Hartwell said. "But I would prefer the Tour of Flanders because it goes through the heartland of Belgium, over cobblestones and hills and open fields. I want to go to Europe. I have no intention of staying in America and racing domestically. I'm not going to be a Tour de France rider; I'm too big. My forte is more into the wind, riding in the cold, nasty weather and sprinting at the end."

But those are dreams and the Olympics are real. A new baby at home is real. The pain of putting one ahead of the other is real. But Hartwell is an Olympic athlete; he's going to ride because that's what he does.

"It's like anything you want to be good at," he said. "You have to bust your ass to get there and make a lot of sacrifices and be disciplined."

What's your return policy?

It is easy to see that Lindenmuth is a pure sprinter. Her quadriceps muscles hang from her thighs like layers of rock. She could easily win a one-legged butt kicking competition.

She has the physical tools to capture Olympic gold in match sprint, her best event, a game of wits as much as strength.

"I really like it," Lindenmuth said. "It's 90 percent mental. You can be 100 percent fit, but if you are cracking mentally, you're not going to go far."

In match sprint, two riders make three laps of the track. Generally the first two laps are quite slow as the riders play mind games and measure each other up like boxers in the early rounds. Finally, on the third lap, one rider will make a break and the two charge hell-bent for the finish line. Lindenmuth tries not to become intimidated by the mental jousting.

"It's not even a mind a game to me," she said. "I just watch my opponent and what they're doing. Most of them I know already, so I know what I need to take away from them."

Lindenmuth, of Trexlertown, Penn., is the defending national champion in the match sprint and 500-meter time trial. She is also one of the youngest riders on the Olympic team. She is still learning this game. But she needs to learn it quickly.

"It's a rough spot for me to be in," she said. "I'm obligated to represent my country the best I can, but I'm still trying to learn. I'm just swimming right now."

And that may be the perfect place for her. She is humble enough to realize who she is and that clears her vision for the future. She can see where she's going and it's impossible to distract her, not even with the pressure of the Olympics.

"I've always been a 'stay tough' kind of kid," she said. "I've always been able to focus on what I want to accomplish. I want to be perfectly clear about this so that everyone understands -- to me, it is the Olympics, but it still has to be just another race, another chance for me to better myself."

When Lindenmuth was born, it was questionable whether she would be able to walk. Her feet were extremely crooked. For the first two years of her life, she wore casts on both feet from the knees down.

"The doctors wanted to break my feet and reset them," she said. "But that hasn't been done to this day."

Her feet and legs have served her well. And though they are large for a 5-foot-1-inch woman, she's rather proud of them. She says her legs used to be bigger when she competed as a roller speed skater -- cycling has made her more lean. She doesn't want to look like a Victoria's Secret model. She's a track cyclist and track cyclists are built like brick outhouses, at least from the waste down.

"Sometimes I think about the feminine thing," she said. "But, you know, we're still feminine. We're athletes, you know, get over it. We work hard and keep ourselves in good shape, and I think we look good."

There is one drawback, however. Shopping.

"We get pissed off when we go shopping for pants. Our legs have taken us far, but we can't find a pair of pants that fit." p

2000 EDS National Cycling Championships

Aug. 22 - 26

The 7-11/ OTC Velodrome at Pikes Peak and Union.

Morning sessions: 10 a.m. to noon; free. Evening sessions: 7-10 p.m.; $2-$5, at the gate.


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