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Sunday, October 1, 2000

Clara snubs road to hit track, lace up skates

 SYDNEY -- Apparently, Clara Hughes doesn't know how this retirement thing is supposed to work.

 Following the women's Olympic individual time trial yesterday, the Winnipegger revealed she's trading in her road bike for a track bike and a pair of speed skates.

 "Speed skating has always been close to my heart," said Hughes, who grew up speed skating and will train in Ste. Foy, Que., where she now lives, for the sport's longer, endurance-style races. "In order to succeed, you have to have a passion for your sport, and since I was a little girl, I've always felt that way about skating."

 Track cycling is a natural fit, too.

 It's been proven this year that world class road course racers can be successful on the velodrome.

 SUMMER TRAINING

 And if you're going to speed skate at a top level, track cycling is wonderful summer training, proven this year by fellow Winnipegger Susan Auch, who nearly qualified for the Sydney Olympic Games, and American speed skater Chris Witty, who did.

 Yesterday, Hughes, who turned 28 on Wednesday, finished sixth in the time trial in 43 minutes, 12 seconds on the two-lap, 31.2-km road course near Sydney's Moore Park.

 Dutch rider Leontien Zijlaard, the Marion Jones of the cycling circuit, won her third gold and fourth medal of these Olympics with a 42.00 ride.

 Zijlaard finished first in the road race on Tuesday, and also captured a gold and silver in track cycling on the velodrome, proving Hughes isn't crazy for making the switch.

 American Mari Holden took silver in 42.37, and unbelievable 42-year-old Frenchwoman Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli won bronze in 42:52.

 In Atlanta in '96, Hughes won bronze in both the road race and the individual time trial for Canada, but she struggled with her commitment to the sport afterwards.

 EMOTIONAL DAY

 When she rediscovered it more than a year later on a trip to Mexico, Hughes began training with coach Eric Van Den Eynde in Quebec.

 "I really enjoy working with Eric, and track cycling is his forte," said Hughes.

 Yesterday was another emotional day for the veteran rider.

 Like Tuesday's road race, the Canadian cyclist rode in honour of her good friend and Saturn teammate, American Nicole Reinhart, who was killed when she was thrown from her bike and struck a tree during a race in Boston this month.

 "She was in my heart," said Hughes.