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Bausch caps comeback story with national individual pursuit title

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."