MUNGYEONG, South Kore -- USA's hopes for a medal in men's team cycling were dashed on the last hill as a group of French bikers charged and cut off America's designated sprinter, Air Force Maj. Ian Holt.
Holt was in a group of eight leaders who had broken away from the main pack of 86 cyclists toward the end of the grueling 131-kilomenter race on the outskirts of Mungyeong, South Korea, Oct. 7.
"I thought it might stick," Holt said of the lead group. His job was to stick with the leaders and then sprint across the finish line to win the USA its first official medal in the Conseil International du Sport Militaire, or CISM World Games.
The French "punch group," however, spoiled that plan.
"They're a pro team, too," Holt said. "They're willing to burn up two or three guys" just to keep teams like the USA off the podium.
So Holt fell back and his teammate, Air National Guard Capt. Sean Cahill, caught up and they crossed the finish line together. At age 42, both of them are among the most seasoned athletes on USA's delegation of 165 military athletes at the World Games.
They finished just 6 seconds behind the winner, Kyoung Ho Park from Korea, who had a time of 2 hours, 51 minutes and 28 seconds. That 6 seconds made a big difference, though, as 43 other cyclists rolled across the finish line between the gold medalist and them.
Next across the finish line for Team USA was Army Capt. Alexander Driscoll from Fort Huachuca, Ariz., with a time of 2:52:31. Fourth to finish for the USA, and the last to count in team competition, was Air Force Tech Sgt. Dwayne Farr with the 142 Fighter Wing in Portland, Oregon, with a time of 2:52:36.
Farr said the 131K course "started fast and did not let up. It definitely was a different style of racing than I'm used to." He called the race a "suffer fest."
Driscoll agreed. He said in most of the U.S. races where he's competed, cyclists let up a bit at some point. There was no lull in the pace in this race, he said. "The surge was always moving forward."
Rounding out the 8-man cycling squad for Team USA were:
-- Air Force 2nd Lt. Stefan Zavislav with a time of 2:52:37
-- 1st Lt. Michael Gallagher with 2:53:08
-- Army Capt. Jose Solis of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy, with a time of 2:59:51
-- Capt. John Shalekbriski, who took a spill when he rounded a corner onto a bridge, but still finished with a time of 3:03:01.
"I came around too hot and hit the dirt," Shalekbriski said of the spill. But he got up, had his bike checked by the U.S. support crew in the lead vehicle, and kept on going.
Team USA took 9th place in the team competition out of 15 national teams. Korea won the team gold, France took silver and Germany won the team bronze. Korean cyclists took both the gold and silver in individual competition with Keon Woo Park taking second place and Russia's Aleksei Tcatevich took the bronze. All three finished with a time of 2:51:28.
"Some of the best guys in the world are here," Cahill said of the cycling competitors. "It's just an honor to bang bars with them."
(Editor's note: At the same time the cyclists were competing, Team USA was winning a gold medal in Women's Formation Skydiving and Women's Two-Person Dinghy Sailing, both taking place about three hours away in Pohang, South Korea.)