As recently as 1978, the US national cycling team finished 22nd in world competition, the training wheels on its program still visible. Last year Uncle Sam made it to fifth in medals won, trailing only East Germany, the Soviet Union , West Germany, and Holland.
''By the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, we hope to be right there with the East Germans and the Russians,'' said US Coach Carl Luesencamp during last week's International Cycling Invitational at the new Olympic Velodrome built here for the games.
''We've made tremendous improvements in our program, we've got talented riders who are also dedicated people, and we've still got almost a year to get ourselves ready, he pointed out.''
Among the things that Luesencamp says he looks for in potential Olympic cyclists are stamina, quickness, good mental attitudes, and power ratios in regard to height and weight. However, not every cyclist is geared to do his best in every form of competition.
''Like track and field performers, cyclists are often separated by the skills required for each event,'' Carl said, noting the variety of individual and team competitions from sprints and time trials to pursuit events and long-distance road races. ''If I could get a college track coach to exchange athletes with me ,'' he added, ''I'm sure I could eventually put together a world-class cycling team from his people, and vice versa. Most cyclists train hard twice a day the year around, although they do take a break on the weekends.
''Years ago most American cyclists were hard pressed to find a velodrome in their own country where they could practice on a banked concrete track. They either had to use the road or a flat dirt running track that wasn't intended for bicycle racing. But now most of our kids live near a velodrome (he estimates there are 19 such facilities spread across the United States), so that training under actual conditions is no longer that big a problem.''
Asked how the US Olympic cycling program compares with that of the sport's major powers, Luesencamp replied, ''They spend a lot more time and money getting their people ready for international competition than we do, but I think our people are finally beginning to see the light. I know this: You can't cut too many financial corners and expect to win. It's not all locked up in the athlete going out and paying a physical and mental price to get there. You also have to spend money on facilities and coaching and equipment, or you are always going to end up chasing some other country.''