Track Cycling's Cold War Rages
REDMOND - They are fellow American cyclists, but they are not friends. Both will race for the United States in the swelter of Barcelona next summer, but they are not teammates.
Connie Paraskevin-Young and Renee Duprel are the best in their business in this country, but they are separate warrior nations on the track. They are their country's best sprinters. No other rider is close. Naturally, they are wary of each other. Naturally, there is competitive tension between them.
Theirs is one of the least-known, but fiercest, rivalries in American sports. Paraskevin-Young is the four-time world match-sprint cycling champion. She is the defending world champion. Duprel is the latest challenger.
They are a cycling Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis. The Dodgers vs. the Giants on wheels.
Mystery oozes from this rivalry like hot lava. Young and Duprel train apart. They rarely meet. It is reminiscent of the Cold War days when we never were quite sure how Soviet athletes were training.
Two months ago, Duprel beat Paraskevin-Young in two straight races in Stuttgart. It was the first time she had won consecutive races from Young.
Young excused the losses, saying she was testing a new bike. But those races might be harbingers of a change at the top. They might have been coming-of-age races for Duprel.
"She can have an excuse, but I know for a fact she doesn't want to give me one inch," Bellevue native Duprel said before beating Kirkland's Julie Gregg in last night's gold-medal race at the Senior National Track Championship. "I beat her and that gave me confidence and she knows that and she doesn't like that. You can't tell me she didn't care. . . . She can slough it off to nothing, but I beat her.
"I've been chasing Connie for a long time, but I've never thought she was immortal. I never thought she was invincible."
For the second year in a row, Young was a no-show at these weeklong national championships. The public-address announcer said Young was nursing a pulled muscle. Riders snickered. Some say she believes the national championships interfere with her training for next month's world championships.
The intrigue builds. The rumors swirl. It is the nature of the game.
"I learned a long time ago that I can't go around worrying about what someone else is doing," Duprel said. "You always hear things, `Wow, Connie is really going fast. She's beating men on the track.' There are always people happy to tell you all the rumors. If you believe all the rumors it will drive you nuts.
"I hear them all, but most of them are not true. They seem to get exaggerated. You learn to take it all with a grain of salt. The secret is to mind your own business and just worry about what you're doing."
Duprel, 25, is doing quite nicely, thank you. She is defending national champion. She finished second in last year's world championships. She was a bronze medalist at the Goodwill Games.
This cyclist is on a roll, which makes the absence of Paraskevin-Young even more lamentable.
"It bothers me that she's not here. I think it's silly that she's missing the national championships, unless she is really injured," Duprel said. "Everybody here knows she missed the nationals last year, too. I think maybe she's avoiding me. She could very well be injured, but it wouldn't surprise me, if she wasn't. Some points in our relationship, we've been antagonistic toward each other."
Even if Young were Mother Teresa, the two would be antagonistic. Young is a world champion. Young has what Duprel wants.
"Sprint racing is a very personal sport," Duprel said. "You're not racing against the clock. It's not like there are 50 other people on the track. It's very personal. We are two different people who want the same thing and only one of us is going to get it. Therein lies the conflict. Even when I'm training, I'm thinking of Connie.
"I mean, our relationship's not ugly or anything. We just avoid each other and go about our business. Sometimes we're civil. Connie's a real competitor and she's really strong. I don't know how she trains. But when it comes to racing, she knows what to do and she knows how to compete. I don't enjoy racing against her, unless I beat her."
Duprel is half of the hottest couple in cycling. Ken Carpenter, who won his fourth straight national match sprint championship Friday night, is her boyfriend.
"She is my only friend," Carpenter said half-jokingly after Friday's win.
The pursuit of greatness often is lonely.
"To a certain extent it's true," Duprel said. "I mean all these people want one thing. You can be friends off the track, but deep down, you have to have your own best interests at heart. You have to be selfish.
"I don't like that part of the sport. I don't like that you can't really trust anybody. I don't really have many female cycling friends. It's just because it's so competitive."
The competition will continue. Renee Duprel. Connie Paraskevin-Young. In the heat of Stuttgart this summer and Barcelona a year from now, the rivalry will burn.
Steve Kelley's column usually appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the Sports section of The Times.
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