Bausch caps comeback story with national individual pursuit title

Updated: October 5, 2007, 6:02 PM ET
Associated Press

CARSON, Calif. -- A horn blared to start the race, and Dotsie Bausch thought her chance at becoming a national cycling champion was immediately gone.

She fell off her bike at the very start, looked up at her coach and asked, "Is it over?"

It wasn't. A second chance awaited, and Bausch tends to make good on second chances.

Bausch got back on the bike and, 12 laps around the banked track and 3 minutes and 44 seconds later, she was USA Cycling's national individual pursuit champion.

And as she stood on the podium, gold medal around her neck and newly awarded stars-and-stripes jersey on her back, Bausch's past -- replete with anorexia, bulimia and cocaine dependency -- was the farthest thing from her mind.

"It was really embarrassing for me for a long time," Bausch said late Thursday night, icing the knee she fell on and sneaking the occasional glance at her medal. "But I'm really verbal about it now. I communicate with a lot of girls all over the world. I've been to Ecuador, Canada, all over the place and it's such a passion now. Being able to come back and live life, that's a victory."

There was a time when Bausch seemed to have it all. She grew up comfortably in Kentucky, riding horses. She attended Villanova, where she joined the crew team. And she even modeled for a few years, while cycling wasn't even on her radar screen.

But the 4 a.m. wake-up calls for crew workouts drove her out of that sport, and she began to get out of shape. So she stopped eating. Cocaine got her through the day, and her hair began to fall out.

"I was almost a goner," Bausch said.

Somehow, friends steered her into cycling. And Bausch slowly got back into shape.

Soon, she was a California state time trial champion. By 2002, she was a professional road racer. And that's when she finally declared herself "well."

"People don't know how tough and strong she is," said Sarah Hammer, a two-time world pursuit champion. "She wants to help people. It's good to have somebody who's a great role model out there who's saying, 'Look what I came from and look where I am now.' That's a great model."

Hammer didn't compete in the individual pursuit at this year's nationals, since her training schedule is being geared toward next spring's world championships and next summer's Olympics. She will ride with Bausch and 2004 Olympian Jennie Reed in a team event Saturday.

Hammer and Bausch were teammates on the T-Mobile road team a few years ago, before Hammer cited burnout and dropped out of the sport -- only to return two years later and turn her attention to track cycling, where she's won back-to-back world titles in the pursuit and is the Olympic gold medal favorite in that event.

Now, after Bausch took a chance with a shot-in-the-dark e-mail, they're teammates again.

After a successful season on the road in international events, Bausch thought the 3-kilometer pursuit distance on the track was tailor-made for her riding style. So she contacted Hammer and her fiance, Andy Sparks, about 6{ weeks ago, asking to could train with them. Sparks -- who also serves as Hammer's coach -- is considered one of the best pursuit strategists in the world, yet he and Hammer often train in private sessions with no other riders.

To Bausch's surprise, they accepted. Sparks and Hammer got her a track bike and Bausch went to work right away, in grueling sessions. Bausch's legs hurt so badly two weeks ago, she was crawling around her home with her dogs.

"I couldn't walk. I could barely roll over in bed," Bausch said. "That's how hard they had me work."

It all paid off Thursday night, when she won her first national title.

"Somebody pinch me," said Bausch, who'd been on a velodrome only three or four times before beginning to train with Sparks and Hammer. "It's an unbelievable path."

It's an unbelievable story, too, and it isn't ending here.

Bausch will continue training with Hammer through next summer's Beijing Olympics, looking to find a way to get on the U.S. roster. Bausch said she hadn't spent much time thinking about the Olympics, but winning a national title changed that in a hurry.

"I know what I can do," Bausch said, "and what I can overcome."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press