Just making the Olympic team is a dream come true for Shelley Olds, but she’s gunning for much more than that in London. Olds, one of four members of the 2012 U.S. women’s Olympic road team, believes a medal could be in her future.
“I think we have an excellent team here, I think we as a team have the potential to medal for sure,” Olds told VeloNews on Wednesday. “We have a lot of options to place, and I believe I’m capable, so that’s my goal here.”
The American, currently riding for the Dutch AA Drink-leontien.nl squad, came back from a broken wrist earlier this year to win the Tour of Chongming Island World Cup in China in May. That win set her up to narrowly miss out on an automatic bid to the U.S. team for London and certainly helped her case with USA Cycling’s selection committee.
But more meaningful to her than the World Cup was a stage win at the Giro Donne on the 4th of July. Olds outsprinted eventual GC winner Marianne Vos (Rabobank) and world champion Giorgia Bronzini (Diadora-Pasta Zara) in stage 6, earning her country an American win on Independence Day. The women’s Giro d’Italia is the biggest women’s stage race in the world and the win took Olds’ tally there to two, after her final-stage victory in 2010.
“I would say the Giro stage win was probably one of my biggest victories, if not the biggest, in my career,” Olds said. “That was a very epic win and it was also very special for my country… The World Cup was a big, big dream for me, but the Giro was bigger because of who I was racing against. To have a victory against the best sprinters in the world was very, very important.”
Olds spent most of the year living in Girona, Spain, racing against the top women in European cycling and even training and competing with local and amateur Spanish men’s teams.
“My goal was to make the Olympic team and make the highest level in cycling, and the way that was possible was to go to Europe and race against the best in the world constantly,” Olds said. “[With the men’s teams] I did some big speed work, a little longer races… women’s racing is so hard in Europe, it’s a different speed, so racing with the men in Spain helped me race against the women.”
Olds’ commitment to training among the best is not surprising — she has always been a determined athlete. Though she was only introduced to cycling in 2005 through a friend with a tandem mountain bike, she played soccer throughout her time at Roanoke College and was the captain of the team for two years. When she moved to Gilroy, California, post-graduation, the town’s healthy cycling community drew her in immediately.
“When I moved out west, I didn’t really have a sport to play and I was looking for one for sure, because I’m an athlete,” Olds said. “[In California] everyone’s riding bikes, every weekend there’s some race happening… but I just met a guy who had a tandem mountain bike, and we’d go out for the weekend camping or up in the mountains just taking the bike with us and exploring. That’s how I fell in love with cycling.”
And once she got hooked on cycling, Olds never looked back. The natural athlete earned national scratch race championships on the track in 2008 and 2009. She was placing top-three in Giro Donne stages by 2009, and by 2010, she had become the Pan-American road race and U.S. criterium champion.
For Olds, standing atop an Olympic podium would be a rewarding culmination of years of dedicated training.
“All of the hard work and sacrifice, the ups and downs you go through, all the emotional struggles and suffering — [medaling] would be the biggest payback for all that,” Olds said. “The biggest joy would come from the look on my family’s faces and my parents’ faces when I’m up there achieving my lifetime dream. I would be so proud to make them proud.”
Olds will be joined in London by Specialized-lululemon teammates Evelyn Stevens and Amber Neben and Exergy-Twenty12’s Kristin Armstrong. The women’s road race is scheduled for Sunday, July 29. Neben and Armstrong will also be competing in the time trial, scheduled for Wednesday, August 1.