Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co Twenty12) will return to the professional peloton, after taking one year off to give birth to her first-born child, at the up coming San Dimas Stage Race held from March 25-27 in California. The double world champion and Olympic gold medallist will race a handful of domestic stage races, however her three main targets are the US Time Trial National Championships held in Georgia in June, UCI Time Trial World Championships held in September in Denmark and an end goal of capturing a second gold medal at the Olympic Games next August in London.
"I am definitely coming back because I have a love for the sport, I still have competitive blood and I truly only have one goal this time around and that is to go to the Olympic Games in London," Armstrong told Cyclingnews.
"I participated in Athens, I won in Beijing and I am not going to London just to participate. I do know what I want and I can't guarantee that is going to happen but those are my goals."
Armstrong won the UCI Elite Time Trial World Championship titles in 2006 and 2009. She also won the 2008 Olympic Games time trial in Beijing. She took one year off where she directed the Peanut Butter & Co Twenty12 team and gave birth to her first child, Lucas.
"It was not in my plan the whole time to come back," Armstrong said. "Toward the end of my pregnancy I had a lot of fun directing the team. My husband [Joe Savola] and I started talking about the possibility of coming back. I had 18 to 20 months until the Olympics in 2012 and we weren't sure but we knew that the time trial course was flat, so I didn't have to worry about climbing so much and it is only a 35-minute race."
"I started getting ideas in my head and I contacted my coach [Jim Miller] to see what he thought," she said. "He thought it would be fun and that we should try it. I delivered Lucas in September and I was a little nervous by October about making the decision to come back, but I needed to make a decision and I needed to be all in, so far it's been great."
When asked how much pressure is involved in coming back to professional cycling with only one main target, the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Armstrong said. "It is a lot of pressure but what is great about it is that sometimes in sports athletes are not clear about where they are going and what they want to accomplish. The coolest thing about putting all of my eggs in one basket is that I'll have answers really quick."
"If I don't get selected for Worlds, do the math, how am I going to get selected for London? Because London is next August and there is no other race like the World Championships, this year, to show USA Cycling who deserves to go," she said. "My goal has to be to do everything I can to do well at US nationals in the time trial and make the worlds team. The dream would be to get on the podium at the world championships because if you are on the podium, you are an automatic for the Olympic Games. That is asking for a lot, don't get me wrong."
Some of the heavy-hitting time trialists in the US include former World Champion Amber Neben and her teammate, current US National Champion Evelyn Stevens (HTC-Highroad) along with nationally ranked time trial specialists Alison Starnes (Peanut Butter & Co Twenty12), Alison Powers (TIBCO-To the Top) and US National Road Champion Mara Abbott (Diadora-Pasta Zara), among others.
Both the 2011 UCI World Championships and the 2012 Olympic Games time trial courses are expected to be flat. Internationally, she will be up against the likes of reigning World Champion from Great Britain Emma Pooley (Garmin-Cervelo), Judith Arndt from Germany (HTC-Highroad), Linda Villumsen from New Zealand (HTC-Highroad), Tara Whitten from Canada (TIBCO-To the Top), Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli from France and recently out of retirement, Clara Hughes from Canada, among others.
"I didn't quit following cycling and competition," Armstrong said. "When people ask me what kind of course suits me, the nice things is that the terrain doesn't matter for me. When I look at my competitors and who is going really well around the world, I have to say that there are a lot of time trialists that are good at climbing right now."
"When I think of a flat time trialist, I think of Clara Hughes and I think she is really smart for coming back," she said. "She has always been a great flat-course time trialist. Since I have been in the sport, there has never been one flat course at the World Championships. So, we don't really know who can do this. But because of my size, if I can get my training up to par I think that physiologically a flat course is to my benefit. But everything has to go right."
Domestic stage races and time trial qualifiers
Armstrong has committed to starting her season at the San Dimas Stage Race and the National Racing Calendar (NRC) kick off at the Redlands Bicycle Classic the following week. She will also compete at the Tour of the Gila, Nature Valley Grand Prix, US Elite Time Trial National Championships and the Cascade Cycling Classic. In addition, she is hoping to be selected for the Pan American Championships held in June in Colombia, where the winner qualifies for an automatic spot at the UCI World Championships.
"I need to make the most out of the few races that I am doing this year," Armstrong said. "My goals are very specific. I need to hit US nationals in the time trial right on so that I make the worlds team and I need to do well at worlds in order to be a candidate for the Olympic Games in London. Going to the Olympics is my end goal, but right now I only have three months to hit my first big target at the US Nationals Time Trial Championships."
"The US National Time Trial Champion will go to the World Championships and the second spot will go to coaches selection," she said. "The only time I will be head-to-head with my competitors is at the US Nationals. I would like to win but I will at least have to be in the top three in order to be considered for the World Championships. We are all on a clean slate and on an equal level of playing field."
Armstrong spent most of the winter months training with her SRM, preparing for the start of the two season openers in California. She has little expectations for now but she hopes to be of help to her Peanut Butter & Co Twenty12 teammates. She last competed in the San Dimas Stage Race with the US-based Lipton squad in 2006.
"Everything right now is going well but I started getting nervous last week," Armstrong said. "Jim Miller and Giana [Roberge] said that I was nervous because I still care. It means that I am excited and I still care about competition. I'm not looking at San Dimas and thinking that it is just a small US race. It's not like that, I'm excited."
"I get to go to San Dimas and Redlands with my team and I really hope that I get some really good fitness out of it," she said. "I've had a long winter. I hope that I am in a position where I am working for one of my teammates. I want to work. I want to get up front. I need to put some work in because if not, I have to come home and train more.
Balancing professional racing and motherhood
Armstrong retired from professional bike racing in 2009 after she secured a second world time trial title in Mendrisio, Italy. She and Nicola Cranmer are co-owners of Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY12 and she joined the team as a directeur sportif during her first pregnancy in 2010. It was recently announced that Giana Roberge, mother and former Saturn team directeur, took over Armstrong's directing duties this year.
"It's hard to take yourself out of competition and sit in a car to direct," Armstrong said. "But, I was able to do a good job of that and give the riders everything they needed because I was pregnant. When you are pregnant you don't feel like you want to go and compete, it disappears from you. I had a very peaceful pregnancy, I enjoyed it and it was probably the most relaxing time of my life. I am such a competitive person and I have such competitive blood and that was the first time in my life that all that was taken away and I had to make sure that I could have the healthiest baby possible. When I look back at pregnancy I think, wow, I could have stressed out about it but I didn't."
"Coming back as a racer, there is quite a bit of difference," she said.
"Bike racing was my number one goal and it was everything to me. It became a hobby at first and then by 2005 it became a job and I loved it. This time around, I have to say that I am a mommy first and a cyclist second. Being a mother has provided me with a lot of balance in my life."
Armstrong and her family will be traveling together to her competitions. When at home, they hired a part-time nanny, her sister-in law, for four hours every morning to provide an opportunity to train. When asked what has changed in her training regimen this time around, Armstrong said, "I've had to take away a lot of the junk. I used to roll out with some friends, top for a coffee and a two-hour ride turned into three hours. There were no worries because normally I didn't have anything else going on."
"I find the way I am getting coached is different this time around too," she said. "My training is very precise. I have more quality than I do quantity. I'm using my years and years of riding lots of miles and with the help of Jim, because he knows that I have this four-hour block, I don't have tons of long rides. A lot of times I have a three-hour ride with intervals. My training is more quality and worth my time when I'm outside."
Armstrong will join a six-woman team at the San Dimas Stage Race that includes Olivia Dillon, Kristin McGrath, Coryn Rivera, Alison Starnes and Alisha Welsh.