Mountain biking 'elder statesman' Juarez is Sydney-bound

Tinker Juarez, 39, will be the oldest mountain biker at the Olympic Games  Credit: Brian Bahr/Allsport
DOWNEY, Calif. (AP) The elder statesman of mountain biking keeps rolling along.

Tinker Juarez, at 39 an old man in a young man's game, will be competing in the Sydney Olympics.

It's been a bumpy ride since last October. He did not do well in competition and his marriage to Argentine cyclist Jimena Florit ended.

"When we're at the races, we see each other," Juarez said. "I've just got to go about my business. I knew I was going to have to face her when we split up. I'm OK with it now. It definitely hurt me in a big way at the time."

Juarez called on his faith to move forward.

"The only way I could do it was go get God back in my life," he said. "I put all my anger and all my energy into my training. I trained harder than ever. I was determined to move on and make the Olympic team. In this sport, there's nothing higher.

"If they were selecting last year, I wouldn't have made the team. My motivation and hunger weren't all there."

A top-flight BMX racer (bicycle motocross on dirt tracks) for several years before switching to mountain biking in 1986, Juarez trains in the nearby San Gabriel Mountains. He spends some 28 hours a week riding about 400 miles when he's not competing in races.

"Everybody goes to work in their car I go to work on my bike," he said with a smile. "Even on an easy day, it's a hard day because you're recovering from your hard day."

Mountain biking became an Olympic sport in 1996. Juarez made the U.S. team that year, and finished 19th in a field of more than 50 riders in Atlanta.

He remains disappointed, even though American riders haven't been among the top competitors in the sport.

"I don't want to do what I did four years ago. I didn't handle the pressure well," said Juarez, a 5-foot-8, 140-pounder. "When I went to Atlanta, I definitely didn't have the fire I needed."

The Olympic mountain bike race is a one-day off-road event of 30 to 32 miles in rugged terrain, with the winner needing at least two hours to finish.

A three-time national champion, Juarez is ranked 37th in the World Cup rankings the top American and realizes he's a long shot for a medal in Sydney.

"I know I'm much better than the first Olympics," he said. "I've gotten stronger and more confident. My goal is to medal. It's possible, I've beaten every single guy who will be on the starting line at one time or another."

Juarez said he'll be the oldest mountain biker in the Olympics by several years. Travis Brown, 30, was the other American selected July 14 to compete based on competition throughout the year. Steve Larsen, 29, is the alternate.

"I'll be the father of them all, I guess," Juarez said. "The next oldest? I would say no more than about 34. I still feel like I have a few more years in me at a top level. I've kind of lost track of my age. Once you get past 30, you don't want to think about them. It's no big deal."

Juarez has competed against Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, but said road racing Armstrong's specialty and mountain biking are much different.

"He does really well on the mountain bike," Juarez said. "I have beaten him. The last time, he beat me. I had a flat in that race. If I got on a road bike, I would have no chance against him."

Juarez and his mother, Rose, disagreed on how he got his nickname.

"It came from way back, when I was riding as a kid. It just stuck with me," said Juarez, who's first name is David.

"We used to say 'Stinker' when he was a baby," Rose said. "Everybody thought we were saying 'Tinker.'"

Juarez decided not to debate further, figuring mother knew best.

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