Bruckner returning to form


MORENO VALLEY, Calif. -- The bump on her right ankle was there for months, yet Kimberly Bruckner saw no cause for alarm. She was winning races, wasn't in pain and was moving toward her Olympic
cycling goal.

After winning the women's time trial gold medal at last year's Pan American Games, she finally had time to have the bump examined by doctors. They found a tumor, removed it a day later, and by week's end Bruckner was back on her training bike and finalizing wedding plans.

Then the phone rang. The bump was cancer.

"Whenever I got massage and people rubbed over it, then it hurt," Bruckner said. "That was the only time. I didn't do anything for it that whole year. I didn't worry. I just left it. Then I got home from Pan Am's, got checked out, got the lab results back and got told I needed to come back to the doctor's office that minute."

The scare was just that -- a scare. Doctors determined Bruckner's cancer was confined to her ankle, and have deemed her healthy. Now, she's a favorite in Thursday's 24-kilometer U.S. Olympic road cycling time trial, with the winner guaranteed a spot on the team headed to Athens.

Most top women cyclists will compete in the trials, including Mari Holden, a five-time national time trial champion who won both a world championship and an Olympic silver medal in 2000. A win on
Thursday may be the only way for Holden to get back to the Games.

"This is the first Olympic trials I've gone into feeling like I'm the underdog with absolutely no pressure," Holden said. "A person with no pressure is a little bit dangerous."

Bruckner, the three-time defending national time trial champion, missed last year's world championships following the September surgery that essentially rebuilt her ankle with new muscle and skin. Her wedding to American rider Chris Baldwin went off as scheduled last October, and she was back on her bike Nov. 1.

This year, her training has remained on schedule, which isn't surprising to her teammates and coaches.

"I didn't even think twice that she wouldn't be back," U.S. women's road coach Jim Miller said. "My first thought was 'what's the diagnosis and is she going to live?' She had a good team of doctors. They were mindful of her occupation. They didn't trash her ankle. And she ended up going right back to work."

There's also been no shortage of support along the way; even Lance Armstrong, who has won the Tour de France five consecutive times after overcoming cancer, called to offer his support.

"Him taking time out of his day to call and offer his support, that was the coolest thing," Bruckner said.

Bruckner, who turns 34 on Saturday, decided to focus solely on cycling only three years ago. She was once one of the nation's best in the duathlon, a competition that typically sandwiches a lengthy
bike ride around a pair of distance runs.

"Her rise has been meteoric," said Baldwin, the reigning men's national time trial champion. "Her results came immediately. She was just devastating established duathletes on the bike, so her potential was apparent right away."

Although she's proven herself to be the nation's premier time-trial cyclist, Bruckner knows not to take anything for granted. At the 2000 Olympic trials in Jackson, Miss., she suffered three flat tires, courtesy of broken glass along the route.

Any type of misfortune on Thursday could wreck her Olympic hopes, since there's rarely margin for error in a time trial, where winners and losers are typically separated by a few seconds.

"It would mean so much to go," Bruckner said. "But I've learned now that if I don't go to the Olympics, it's not the end of the world."