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USA Cycling announces road race team for Paris that will try to end 40-year Olympic medal drought

FILE - Bronze medal winner Magnus Sheffield of Pittsford, right, poses during the podium ceremony as fellow U.S. cyclist, Quinn Simmons, who won gold, looks on at the road cycling World Championships in Harrogate, England, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. Sheffield and Matteo Jorgenson will join Brandon McNulty on the U.S. cycling team for the Paris Olympics. Together, the trio could be the best chance for an American to win a road race medal since Alexi Grewal took gold 40 years ago. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez, File)
Manu Fernandez
/
AP
FILE - Bronze medal winner Magnus Sheffield of Pittsford, right, poses during the podium ceremony as fellow U.S. cyclist, Quinn Simmons, who won gold, looks on at the road cycling World Championships in Harrogate, England, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. Sheffield and Matteo Jorgenson will join Brandon McNulty on the U.S. cycling team for the Paris Olympics. Together, the trio could be the best chance for an American to win a road race medal since Alexi Grewal took gold 40 years ago. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez, File)

Magnus Sheffield of Pittsford and Matteo Jorgenson will join Brandon McNulty on the U.S. cycling team for the Paris Olympics, giving the American contingent perhaps its best chance in four decades to win a road race medal.

McNulty had already qualified for the team by winning the national time trial championship earlier this year. The big question was who would join him. USA Cycling had to weigh which of its potential riders would be on the start line for the Tour de France on June 29, then pick the team best suited for the Olympic course that begins and ends in Paris.

The announcement came Friday, five weeks before the opening ceremony.

"Going to the Olympics was one of my biggest goals growing up," Sheffield said. "I'm incredibly proud to represent the U.S. in Paris as well as all the people that have helped me along the way. I don't think it will fully sink in until I'm there."

WXXI's David Streever spoke with Sheffield last month, when he was racing in the Giro d’Italia, one of three prestigious grand tours.

Chloe Dygert and Taylor Knibb already had secured the two women's spots on the team. Dygert won the time trial world title to earn an automatic nomination, while Knibb was a surprising winner of the U.S. time trial championship to earn her spot.

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Both will be busy in Paris. Along with the road race and time trial, where Dygert will be heavily favored to win gold, she will be racing in the velodrome later in the Olympics as part of the U.S. pursuit squad. Knibb already had qualified for the Paris Games in the triathlon before making the cycling team; she finished 16th in the event at the Tokyo Games.

"I'm very honored, grateful and excited for the opportunity to represent Team USA with USA Cycling," Knibb said. "It would not have been possible without the support of my amazing family, friends, coaches, manager, sponsors and USA Triathlon.

"Cycling has a very steep learning curve," she added, "and I am simultaneously excited and nervous for what lies ahead."

The U.S. has struggled in the road race since the 1984 Los Angeles Games, when Alexi Grewal won the men's race and Connie Carpenter and Rebecca Twig went one-two in the women's event. Meanwhile, European countries have dominated the medal table, though Richard Carapaz of Ecuador used a stunning attack to win a surprising gold in Tokyo.

But the UCI, which governs international cycling, changed its quota system for the Olympics in an attempt to achieve gender parity across all events. That means a much smaller number of riders in the men's race — 90 rather than the 130 that started in Tokyo — and that increases the possibility of a team such as the U.S. making a statement at the finish.

McNulty nearly did in Tokyo anyway. He attacked with Carapaz with about 15 miles (25 kilometers) left in the race, though he was unable to stay with him. Carapaz rode away from him with about three miles to go and McNulty wound up sixth.

"That top result — sixth in the road race — just motivates me all the more," McNulty said. "The race was super aggressive. I relive it all the time. At home in Arizona and Girona, (Italy), I'm already training with 100 percent focus on Paris."

McNulty has had a strong season. He was the overall winner at a race in Spain, won time trial stages at the UAE Tour and the Tour de Romandie, and finished third overall at the prestigious Paris-Nice race that Jorgenson won.

The 22-year-old Sheffield is the least experienced rider on the U.S. squad but already has some big results to his name. Two years ago, he won Brabantse Pijl, one of the major one-day races in Flanders — a first for an American in more than a decade.

Jorgenson made a name for himself at last year's Tour de France, where he was active in several breakaways and nearly won atop Puy de Dôme. The 24-year-old has been even better this year, winning Dwars door Vlaanderen and finishing second at the Criterium du Dauphine against a field that included some of the biggest names in the sport.

"The Olympics were always a part of my childhood," he said. "I remember spending entire summers watching sports I had never heard of and admiring the athletes. For sure, it had a big effect on me, and it was one of the reasons I decided to pursue a career as a pro athlete. Being able to race in Paris, especially following the best year of my career, is a dream come true."

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