By Ernie Clark, - DEXTER - Adam Craig's Olympic ambitions will have to wait - for now.
The 24-year-old Exeter native came up short in his bid to earn one of two berths on the U.S. Olympic men's mountain biking team, which was announced this week.
Veterans Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Todd Wells earned the trip to Athens through their top finishes on the International Cycling Union (UCI) World Cup circuit.
Horgan-Kobelski finished as the top American in the UCI rankings and 10th overall among the more than 200 riders competing at the sport's elite level. Wells earned his Olympic spot as the second-ranking American and among the top 25 overall (21st) in the World Cup point standings.
Craig, who moved up to the open division this year after winning three straight U.S. U-23 (age 23 and under) championships, settled for 34th place among all World Cup competitors, fourth among American riders.
Craig's Olympic hopes were contingent on his performance in six World Cup races from mid-May through early July, but a mechanical failure on his bike during the first of those events in Madrid, Spain, immediately put him in scramble mode.
He failed to finish that race after the hub on his rear wheel locked up, making him unable to coast - something crucial to racing on a mountain course.
"I was having a pretty good day, but once the rear hub froze up I dropped from 30th to about 75th in two or three minutes," said Craig, who rides for the Giant/Izumi Pearl team.
"That race pretty much cost me," he said. "In retrospect, it 100 percent cost me an Olympic spot."
The DNF meant Craig had to start at the back of the field a week later in Houffalize, Belgium, and again he failed to earn any World Cup points as he finished 93rd.
Craig rebounded in the third World Cup event at Fort William, Scotland, placing 34th overall, third among the Americans.
"I just started to get myself back together," he said. "I was less worried about making the Olympics at that point, I was just going out to race a good race."
Still, he wasn't satisfied with his World Cup performance , so he skipped the final European stop in Austria and returned stateside to regroup and compete in National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) races in West Virginia and Vermont.
"I talked with some of the other guys, and at that time there was no question that the best thing for me was to go back home," he said. "The NORBA races gave me a good chance to get some strong results."
Craig finished third in both NORBA races, putting him in good spirits to rejoin the World Cup circuit for its final two races, both in Canada.
His return to the World Cup proved successful. He finished ninth overall and first among the Americans at Mount Sainte-Anne, Quebec - a result so good it rekindled his Olympic hopes.
"I was glad to be able to have a good race in Quebec," said. "I raced well there, and it really reopened the door for me as far as the Olympics went."
Heading into the final race in Calgary, Alberta, Craig needed a top-five finish to clinch an Olympic berth, or to finish far enough ahead of Wells to overcome a 26-point deficit Wells had earned by scoring points in every World Cup race.
Armed with a good starting spot based on his Quebec finish, Craig started strongly. But battling a cold as well as a day of "gnarly hailstones" and "crazy winds," Craig faded late in the race. He finished 19th overall while Wells placed 10th to clinch the final U.S. Olympic bid - 36 points ahead of third-ranked American Jeremiah Bishop and 43 points ahead of Craig.
It was close enough to give some thought as to what might have happened had Craig not skipped the Austrian World Cup race, but for him looking back is a waste of time.
"It ended up being fairly close, but the numbers were not in my favor," Craig said. "I don't second-guess myself at all, because at the time coming home was the right thing for me to do, and who knows what would have happened if I stayed there given the bad luck I'd already had.
"If I had gone to Austria, things might have been different, but I also might not have gotten the good result in Quebec that I got by coming back here and getting in some good training."
Craig will spend the rest of the summer based in Oregon, training and competing in NORBA races in preparation for a busy September. The UCI world championships are in France on Sept. 11-12, followed by the World Cup finals in Italy the following weekend, and then the U.S. championships in California on Sept. 26.
Far beyond this season, there are Olympic ambitions still to chase in a sport where riders typically peak in their late-20s or early 30s.
"For me there are going to be another couple of Olympic opportunities," he said, "because I expect to be still racing in 2012.
"I'm not too concerned about it right now. It would have been a boon to my career and a great experience to go to Athens, but I feel good looking to the future."
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