NAMPA, Idaho (VN) — Up until Thursday, the big question circling through the professional women’s peloton was who will compete for the U.S. on the 2012 Olympic time trial team in London. Now the question is — how much recovery time does a world-class athlete need to come back from a fractured collarbone?
On 15 June, USA Cycling will announce the two riders who will race the Olympic time trial, assuming the U.S. maintains its spot as the No. 4 UCI-ranked nation in the world.
Before the Exergy Tour’s prologue, it seemed like a clear competition between Specialized-lululemon teammates Amber Neben and Evelyn Stevens and Exergy Twenty12’s Kristin Armstrong. Two of these women would get the spots, and it was only a matter of results, points, and some USA Cycling discretion to make the final nomination.
But then Armstrong crashed hard in the opening day of the Exergy Tour. After setting a blistering pace across the first half of the course and setting the fastest time at the split, she crashed at the turnaround and fractured her collarbone.
Exergy Twenty12 Team director Simon Cope said he is confident Armstrong — who won a 29.4km time trial in Bakersfield at the Amgen Tour of California one week earlier — would have come in under four minutes on the 3.2 km course, (the winning time was 4:09), while Clara Hughes (Specialized), who took third that day, also agrees she would have come out on top.
“She would have won it for sure. I think it’s fair to say that she would have won it with the time she did,” said Hughes.
Meet the contenders for these two coveted spots. Neben, the 2003 national road champion and 2008 world time trial champion, has won multiple international cycling events and competed in last year’s world time trial championship after successfully challenging Armstrong’s spot on the worlds team. Neben said she doesn’t want to think about how this injury will play into the ultimate selection of the U.S. Olympic time trail duo.
“Right now my heart just goes out to Kristin, as someone who has faced a lot of adversity in my own career, and been close to achieving a dream and have it ripped away,” said Neben. “You don’t wish that on anyone. I feel for her right now, and I’m sad that she won’t be competing.”
Ultimately, she has to focus on her own game, Neben said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m going to try and have a good ride tomorrow, and keep building with my own preparation and we’ll see what happens. I’ll focus on what I can control.”
Stevens is the current national time trial champion and recently won the UCI World Cup event Fléche Wallonne Femmes, a win her teammate Ina-Yoko Teutenberg called “every bike rider’s dream.”
When asked if she thinks Armstrong will be ready to race in the July Olympic time trial, her answer was definite.
“Yeah, for sure. I’m not a physiologist or a trainer, but she’s tough. I mean how many weeks do we have until the Olympics? She’s here at this race already,” said Stevens, referring to the fact that Armstrong showed up at first official stage of the Exergy Tour just hours after surgery.
Fighting for those two starting positions puts the pressure on, said Stevens.
“It makes you step your game up, you know. Both Amber and Kristin are such awesome athletes, that for me to earn that spot I’m going to have to be on top of my game. I’m trying everything I can right now, and hopefully it works out.”
Finally, there’s Armstrong, the reigning Olympic time trial gold medalist, who has effectively entered into another race against the clock as she tries to prepare for the Olympics on a trainer. Time will tell, literally, on Saturday when Neben and Stevens take the line at the Exergy Tour’s time trial, an opportunity for each rider to earn more individual UCI ranking points and thus further complicate the choice USA Cycling will have to make by 15 June.
Whatever the outcome, one world-class American rider won’t be competing in the time trial in London.