The USA Cycling team announced its long rosters for mountain biking and road racing for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and three athletes from Durango will compete for their chance to make the trip.
The long list gives USA Cycling a roster of athletes to pick from. The actual teams are still to be decided after athletes complete their spring schedule of world tour races. Final team selections will be announced June 24, 2016.
Todd Wells, 39, will look to make his fourth Olympic appearance on the men’s mountain biking long team. He will be joined by Durango native Howard Grotts, a 22-year-old who will aim for his first Olympic trip.
“It’s pretty rad,” Grotts said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “Even if we kind of had an idea of who was going to be on that list, having it official is pretty cool. The Olympics are a big deal.”
Grotts and Wells earned two of three automatic nominations to the long team. Grotts is coming off a strong U-23 World Cup season and a cross country national championship in the elite category of the USA Cycling Mountain Bike Nationals event July. 18 in Mammoth Lakes, California.
“I’m sure I’ll talk to Todd plenty about it,” Grotts said of leaning on Wells’ wealth of Olympic knowledge. “I really don’t know what his ambitions are. Obviously he’s a strong rider and you can never count him out.”
Also announced Friday was Carmen Small’s nomination to the women’s road cycling team. Small, a 35-year-old time trail specialist, will look to make her first Olympic appearance. She took bronze in the 2013 UCI Road World Championships individual time trial race and was a member of the 2014 world champion team time trial squad.
Those results came after she was selected as an alternate in the London Games, but she was never called on to compete.
“I’m pretty ecstatic to be named to the long team,” Small said in a phone interview with The Herald. “To get the opportunity to represent the U.S. in Rio would be a dream come true. This is the first step to doing that.”
Small will head back to Europe to work with her team Jan. 9. She will compete in the Tour of Qatar in early February before kicking off her world tour season.
Though a time-trial specialist, Small said she will put her focus on proving she is one of the top four Americans in road racing to earn her spot. At the Olympics, four athletes represent the U.S. in the road race and two are selected for the time trial.
“I have to prove I’m one of the four that needs to be there. It would be an extra bonus to do the time trial,” she said.
Wells previously has competed in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Games in Athens, Beijing and London, respectively.
Other nominations include Mara Abbott of Boulder on the women’s road long team. Abbott is a five-time Iron Horse Bicycle Classic women’s road race champion.
Keegan Swenson of Park City, Utah, also was selected to the men’s mountain bike long team. Swenson has spent much of his time in recent years training in Durango.
Grotts said the official teams will be decided after the first three World Cup races of 2016. Swenson still has one more year of U-23 races to complete, while Grotts will compete in the elite division next season.
Grotts made a trip to Rio in October with Stephen Ettinger and the USA Cycling team. Ettinger was the other automatic nomination along with Grotts and Wells.
While in Rio, Grotts was able to test the course the races will be held on next summer.
“It is a very demanding course and doesn’t necessarily play into my strengths as a rider,” he said. “The climbs are very gradual and short. It’s a lot like the Olympic track in London as far as being 100 percent man-made with tough rock gardens and log features. But, still, it’s the Olympics. To make it there and give it your best even if the course doesn’t fit you will be amazing.”
Track long team selections will be made Dec. 15, and the BMX selections will be made June 24 along with the final Olympic Team selections.