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  • Wed August 13 2008
  • Posted Aug 13, 2008
By BRYCE MILLER brmiller@dmreg.com August 8, 2008 Juyongguan, China - Majestic, meandering ribbons of the Great Wall of China flanked Jason McCartney in the sticky afternoon haze Thursday as he climbed off his bicycle. Lush, green sections of the Western Mountains, sprinkled with pagodas, added final brush strokes to the awe-inspiring finish line of the Olympic road cycling course. In front of that stunning backdrop, McCartney's thoughts drifted home. "I think it's kind of like Iowa here," said McCartney, 34, a two-time Olympian. "To me, it feels like a hot, Iowa summer day." McCartney kept his eyes wide open as he pedaled portions of the course in preparation for Saturday's men's road race. The Coralville resident felt the ride as much as he saw it. Patches of fog-like white blanketed the area as McCartney and U.S. teammates tested the Chinese route for the first time. McCartney, who competed in the same event during the 2004 Athens Olympics, heard whispers about the character of the course. "From what I'd heard, I thought it would be a lot harder climb," McCartney said. "It's more of a gradual, grinding road climb, then a long descent. It's definitely going to be interesting." McCartney's job in China, as in Greece, will be to help teammates keep pace, fight off challenges and put them in position for a medal attack at the end. The Americans feature David Zabriskie and George Hincapie - riders who have worn the yellow jersey at the Tour de France - along with five-time Tour veteran Christian Vande Velde and Levi Leipheimer, a Tour stage-winner. "When I went to Athens, I'd only seen these guys in magazines," McCartney said. "Now, I race with them day in and day out." Recent weeks were spent on rides through the high mountains of Austria, Germany and Denmark as McCartney sharpened his Olympic focus. McCartney finished fourth in Germany and eighth in Denmark tuneups. Now it's Beijing, on a course that wraps past Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven in the city before transitioning into the northwest countryside - and looping final laps around the Juyongguan and Badaling sections of the Great Wall. "I'm sure it will start off kind of mellow, then probably some smaller countries will try to jump ahead since they can only ride on the flats," McCartney said. McCartney has a plan to deal with the area's Iowa-like stickiness. "I use some mineral salts that are for, like, babies when they're dehydrated," he said. "So I'll put some of that in my water bottle for the start and maybe, like, halfway through to help keep me hydrated." McCartney's Olympics begin and end Saturday, but he expects to enjoy some non-cycling moments, too. He hopes to watch the men's basketball game between the U.S. and China - and already has a few Olympic stories, such as life in the Olympic Village. "You see these 8-foot Russian women and the U.S. basketball players come into the dining hall last night and there was just a big mob around them," he said. Any cycling groupies? "We don't get mobbed," McCartney deadpanned. "There's Carlos Sastre, who just won the Tour de France, sitting at a dining table and no one's even around him. It's crazy. It kind of shows where our sport is in relation to the other ones." Fan following or not, medal or not, McCartney plans to enjoy his second Olympics. He even plans to enjoy some of the views. "I didn't really know we were racing right through it (the Wall), to be honest - so that's pretty cool," he said.

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