Road

Kristin Armstrong faces tougher road to Rio

A podium in Richmond TT would have given Armstrong an automatic Rio berth. Now her quest for a third-straight Olympic gold is complicated.

RICHMOND, Virginia (VN) — Kristin Armstrong was fighting back tears after finishing fifth in the women’s time trial at the UCI World Championships Tuesday afternoon.

In her comeback year, the two-time Olympic gold medalist had been the second rider to start but the first to finish. Her strong ride had her in the hot seat for most of the day, until the favorites in the final 12-rider wave started knocking her down the standings.

“I’m used to starting later,” Armstrong said, gathering herself. “You have to have a different mindset. You can only control your controlables. So you can’t let it eat you up. But there’s an advantage to starting later. When you have four time splits on the course, that’s a lot. It’s an advantage. Those girls were given times to beat today.”

Armstrong, the two-time defending Olympic champion in the time trial, ended a three-year retirement this season with the sole goal of earning another Olympic gold in Rio in 2016. And though she made it to worlds by virtue of winning the national title this year and also won the women’s overall at the USA Pro Challenge, she said she has to put her fifth-place finish in perspective.

“I was off the bike for almost three years, didn’t compete,” she said. “And I had three hip surgeries. So I knew that this year was going to be my foundation year and that 2016 is going to be the year when I make another jump. I didn’t start training until this February, and my last hip procedure was last December.”

Still, a podium spot in Richmond would have given her an automatic berth, and she came up 15.32 seconds short. But with Armstrong the highest-place American woman at the world’s TT, things will get trickier.

“Of course I wanted to win,” Armstrong said. “That’s who I am. But really I wanted to get top three. That’s automatic qualification for Rio. I think that was a really important step for me toward Rio. Now both time trial slots go to coaches’ selections, and I always find that very difficult.”

A jump to Europe and a race for points would be an obvious choice. But Armstrong says that’s not in her plans. She’ll continue racing selectively in the U.S. only and said that, as the mother of a five-year-old son and with a job as a community health director back home in Boise, Idaho, that’s the only way forward for her.

“I have a family,” she said. “And I don’t believe that to be at the top in time trials you need to race over there. I was fifth today, despite staying at home. I look at it like training for a marathon. A lot of professional women train for a marathon at the top level. I can do the same in time trialing.”

Armtrong’s son, who had been standing at the periphery, walked over and placed a “Ride” decal on his mother’s arm. Then the tears came.