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More than a jersey on the line for Armstrong

Kristen Armstrong is trying to eliminate any doubts about whether she should be selected for the U.S. Rio Olympic team at nationals.

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As a two-time Olympic gold medalist and the reigning women’s U.S. national time trial champion, you would think that Kristin Armstrong’s path to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil would be relatively smooth. But as she awaits the selection committee’s decision in June, Armstrong isn’t about to sit up in what has become a real life race against the clock.

It all began a year ago, when the twice-retired Armstrong announced she would seek one last shot at Olympic glory. With the prospect of an automatic spot on Team USA up for grabs with a podium at Richmond worlds, Armstrong began working her way backward. How does a 42-year-old, retired time trialist assure herself a spot on perhaps the most coveted worlds squad in American history? By winning nationals, of course. And that’s just what she did.

Richmond didn’t go quite as smooth, however. While Armstrong took top honors among Americans, she failed to land herself a podium, dashing her hopes of an automatic Rio ticket. Since, she has walked what she describes as a perilous tightrope, racing throughout the spring of 2016 with little margin for error.

“It’s been really hard. I will be straight up,” she said. “I feel that I have to go out and win at everything that I do. It’s like I always have to be on. Whether it’s a regional race, a Women’s WorldTour race, or a national championship — none of which are written into the criteria as Olympic qualifiers, incidentally — I just feel like I always have to go out with the expectation that one mishap, one failure, could sink my chances.”

And so with three Olympic slots as yet unnamed, the two-time world champion plans to settle the matter just as she has so often on the road: decisively.

“I don’t even want there to be a discussion [among the selection committee],” Armstrong explains. “I want to have shown that I can complete against the best in the world and be selected. Period. I don’t want there to be any doubts.”

The women’s Olympic team will be comprised of four members: Boels – Dolman’s Megan Guarnier (third in the world’s road race), and three additional members to be selected June 24 via coaches’ pick. Two of these spots will compete in the Olympic time trial, while the third will be dedicated solely to the road race. But in an interesting twist, both time trialists must compete in the road race as well, which means that the selection committee will look for a pair of all-rounders.

This fact has caused Armstrong to readjust her 2016, adding a vigorous road calendar to what began as a TT-focused comeback. It’s a shift Armstrong has made with style.

“You know, I didn’t get chosen for the world’s road team last year in Richmond, because I decided to come back and focus on time trialing,” the Boise, Idaho native added. “I didn’t get chosen because I hadn’t been road racing. But that doesn’t mean I forgot how to do it. It just means I didn’t do it.”

Determined to show her mettle in both disciplines, Armstrong began 2016 with a solid block of road racing, including Redlands, the Tour of the Gila and the Amgen Tour of California. While this has meant more travel than she might have anticipated a year ago, the reigning national champion has found road racing to be a win-win proposition, further improving her time trialing in the process.

“Road racing is not only great for my fitness, it’s actually bumped me up a level [as a time trialist] from even six months ago,” she said. “It’s been very rewarding to be with my team and help with their development, but I also just can’t afford to leave any questions on the table about whether I’m ready to race on the road. Clearly I am.”

This weekend in Winston-Salem, Armstrong hopes to put an exclamation point on her Olympic ambitions with her fifth national time trial championship.

“This is a really big race,” she explained of Friday’s USA Cycling National Time Trial Championship. “It’s not often that we get to go head-to-head against one another. Three of us got to in Richmond, but really its unusual for us all to show up on the same day on the same start line.”

In the end, Armstrong plans to leave it all out on the roads of North Carolina and let the chips fall where they may.

“My whole goal since coming back last year has been that I just need to show up in good form and everything else will just sort itself out. I came back to go after a gold medal and if I’m not performing at the top consistently, then that chance of a gold medal just won’t be possible. But I feel like this has all gone well.”