JUYONGGUAN, China — No 2008 Olympic athletes will be outside competing in the hot, humid and hazy conditions for as long or as hard as the 143 cyclists racing in the men's road race midday Saturday.

For nearly 6 1/2 hours and covering more than 240 kilometers (or about 150 miles) from central Beijing, up to the northern mountains and then seven times around a 24-kilometer "lap," the international cyclists battled extreme conditions.

More than 50 didn't finish, including Salt Lake City resident David Zabriskie, riding for the United States and certainly not a fan of the grueling up-and-down mountain stretches.

"There's not one easy part on the course — even the downhill is difficult," he said, later criticizing the heat and humidity as compared to other international cycling venues. "It's a lot worse here. The humidity really takes all your fluids out."

Beijing's air quality, which has gotten a black eye all week from the visiting media, also drew Zabriskie's comments, prompted by a trend in the questioning by U.S. journalists focusing on the air.

"You can't blame it all on China," he cautioned. "You've got bad air in Salt Lake City, L.A. and New York."

He admitted to wearing a protective mask for about three hours while training in Beijing this week — and admitted the actual reason for its purchase. "I actually bought it for training in Salt Lake City," he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. teammate Levi Leipheimer, who attended Salt Lake City's Rowland Hall-St. Marks, shrugged off opportunities to speak out about competing in and breathing Beijing's air.

"I know it looks bad, but I don't know if it's as bad as it looks — that's what I tell myself," he said. "Honestly, I don't feel it."

Now, the heat and humidity — for Leipheimer, that's another story.

"This is an extreme condition," he said. "It was hard to stay cool and stay hydrated."

Leipheimer could only think of one other comparable cycling race with such demanding conditions.

"It was the other time I raced in China — the '96 Tour of China," he said. "It was a lot like this, whatever you call 'this.'"

He gave Saturday's road race and the Beijing Olympics course more than mere passing grades, noting the race's competitive nature with the top 12 finishers all within 35 seconds of each other.

"I think in the end it wasn't that difficult," he said. "You didn't see one-by-ones (finishers) or two-by-twos in the end. I think it was perfect."


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