This time a year ago, Carmen Small was hanging her bike up for what she thought was good. When the relationship with her Italian trade team disintegrated in early 2009, the Durango, Colorado, native returned home from what was supposed to be her first full season in Europe. One year later, she won the Sea Otter Classic SRAM women’s road race Friday for Colavita-Baci.

Ditch the swim for the bike

Small grew up in the southwestern Colorado town that has for years been an endurance athlete factory. She split time in high school between nordic ski racing and volleyball and attended the College of Southern Idaho, where she was a member of the powerhouse women’s volleyball team. Small left CSI to pursue a mathematics degree at Colorado State University, where she
discovered triathlon.

As a member of the CSU triathlon team, Small finished eighth at the 2003 national collegiate championships. A successful post-collegiate multisport career landed Small at the 2005 USA Cycling Talent Identification Camp alongside riders like Mara Abbott, Katharine Carroll and Brooke Miller.

“They were all nice to me in my short shorts and triathlon gear,” said Small. “I was thinking, ‘Why are all these people matching and wearing the same clothes everyday? I don’t have that. ‘”

Smalls short shorts didn’t last long after the camp; she decided to focus full-time on the bike shortly afterward. After a year spent riding for a regional amateur team, she landed a spot on the roster of the Aaron’s professional team, due in large part to the urging of Catherine Powers, in 2007. Small scored a top ten result at the national criterium championships that season and made her first inroads in Europe the following year.

Mixed results in Europe

Small spent much of 2008 in Europe with the U.S. national team, where she earned starts that included the Ronde Van Drenthe and Tour of Flanders. The European racing and lifestyle suited Small and she made the move to the continent full-time, or so she thought, in early 2009 with Italian squad S.C. Michela Fanini-Record-Rox. The arrangement only lasted a few months, however, and by April Small was back in the States, considering retirement.

“It wasn’t a good place for me. Not so much the European racing, but the team was not what I could handle. Stuff was going on that was inappropriate, so I decided to leave.”

Small refused to comment on the record about her troubles at S.C. Michela Fanini, but whispers of doping practices have surrounded the team and USA Cycling recently announced that former teammate Flavia Oliveira will face a two-year suspension after testing positive for the amphetamine oxilofrine.

In mid-April 2009, Colavita sprinter Tina Pic called Small and asked her to pull the bike off the wall and jump into the USA Crits Speedweek criteriums as a guest rider with the team. Small did and her thoughts of retirement dissipated.

“I had a blast and really clicked with Kelly (Benjamin) and Tina,” said Small. “I had so much fun working with them and decided that I woul continue on with cycling.”

Small guest rode with Colavita through the spring and before midseason, she signed a contract to join the team full-time and her career was back on track.

Fast forward six months and the 30-year old is loving her place in the Colavita team and is thinking about a future in Europe once again.

“For me, personally, I really need to have a solid year,” said Small. “I’ve spent the last few years with a lot of traveling. It’s really important for me to be in a good place.”

The year started out on solid footing for Small. She opened with an overall win at the Valley of the Sun Stage Race in February and followed that with a fourth overall at the San Dimas Stage Race. Arguably her most impressive ride of the year came when she finished third behind Evelyn Stevens and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg on the Sunset Loop stage at the Redlands Bicycle Classic.

“It’s been a roller coaster for me,” said Small. “I think I’m finally in a place where I have a solid home life and the team is really unique. We all really get along and we’re solid supports for each other and I think it could be a really good year for our team and I’m really excited about it.”

Small will feature in Colavita’s stage race squad in 2010 and after Sea Otter, she will build for her planned start at the SRAM Tour of the Gila later this month.