When it comes to racing bikes there really isn't anything that Carmen Small can't do. This week, the American will guest ride with Elbowz Racing at the men’s North Star Grand Prix, a tough six-stage race that starts on Wednesday with the St Paul time trial and concludes on Sunday with the challenging Stillwater Criterium.
"I haven’t been planning this for months," Small told Cyclingnews. "It was planned last weekend and now I’m doing it. It was a huge surprise to myself, I’m a little bit in shock about it. What do I have to lose? If anything, I have a lot to gain because it will be great training at such a high level, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be honest."
Small, a world-class road racer and time triallist over the past five years, has made some unexpected twists to her 2015 season. She left her former road team Specialized-lululemon for Twenty16 p/b Sho-Air. She started her track career by joining the US national team for the women's team pursuit on the World Cup circuit, where she contributed to their bronze-medal performance at the final round in Cali, Colombia, and then was selected to the team for the Track World Championships in France.
She has gone on to have a successful road season with wins at the Pan American Continental Championships in the individual time trial and at Chrono Gatinueau. She was also second behind teammate Kristin Armstrong in the time trial at the USA Cycling Professional Road Championships. She admitted that she's in great form but was disappointed that there were no women's races to attend in June.
She committed to racing in the men’s North Star Grand Prix with Elbowz Racing, after the long-running women’s stage race of which she won twice, was cancelled earlier this year. She is also hoping that her efforts this week might help bring more exposure to the event, and reignited a future women’s race.
"It’s sad," Small said. "This was my first NRC race as an amateur back in 2006, so it was sad for me to see it go away. I think on the bigger picture it’s important for me to bring a little bit more attention and media to the race. Maybe teams will start coming back to it and the promoters will put it on."
Support all around for Small
Small has the approval to compete in the men’s race from the sport’s national governing body USA Cycling and North Star Grand Prix organiser David LaPorte, and both have expressed their full support.
USA Cycling emailed Cyclingnews a statement from their Vice-President of National Events, Micah Rice that said, "We not only support Carmen racing in the men’s NRC North Star Grand Prix, but we think it is really exciting. Because it is not a UCI event, North Star Grand Prix falls under USA Cycling rules. As long as the race director, David LaPorte, is on board, she has a team that is willing to include her and she’s racing within the rules, we fully support it. We wish Carmen the best of luck in Minneapolis."
Although Small competes for the UCI-registered women’s team Twenty16 p/b Sho-Air, she does not need to go through a formal release process in order to guest ride for the non-UCI registered men’s team Elbowz Racing, as she would if she were to join another UCI team. She simply needed a letter of consent from her team’s manager Nicola Cranmer.
"She does not need to be released from her current UCI team in this situation," Mark Guthart, Technical Director at USA Cycling told Cyclingnews.
"She does need a letter of authorization from Twenty16 p/b Sho-Air giving her permission to compete at the North Star Grand Prix for Elbowz Racing, but not so far as to needing a full-fledged release." Small received the letter of authorization from her team on June 15.
Guthart also noted that because the North Star Grand Prix is not a UCI-inscripted event, there are a number of USA Cycling regulations that help support the efforts of what Small, the event, and both Twenty16 and Elbowz are looking to accomplish.
"For example, regulation 1F7(a) allows teams to add one or more guest riders for a particular event; 1H9(g) allows women to enter men's races for which they are eligible by age, category, and any performance requirements (something that is done fairly frequently at the lower level category races); and regulation 1H9(l) indicates that riders on UCI Women's teams may enter domestic events that specifically include professionals on the permit and race flyer (of which North Star is an example)."
In addition, since the North Star Grand Prix is a member of the USA Cycling’s National Racing Calendar (NRC), Small will keep any points that she should acquire during the race, to be put toward the individual men’s ranking. As a guest rider, her points will not be used in the series’ overall team ranking.
"In the case that Carmen earns individual men's NRC points, she will be awarded these just as any other athlete competing in the same men's NRC event," Guthart said. "These points would not accumulate to any individual women's NRC points, but rather would remain as her points and placing in the individual men's standings only."
Contributing to the race a big goal
Small calls the North Star Grand Prix a ‘no-joke’ men’s race, one that includes six stages over the course of five days from June 17-21 in and around Minneapolis-St Paul in Minnesota, and a lot more kilometres (and likely at faster average speeds) than she is used to racing.
The race includes the stage 1 time trial and stage 2's 40-lap criterium, both in St. Paul on Wednesday. A 152km road race in Cannon Falls on stage 3 on Thursday. Another 40-lap criterium in Uptown Minneapolis on stage 4 on Friday. Stage 5’s 161km road race in Menomonie on Saturday. And the race will conclude with arguably the toughest stage on Sunday at the Stillwater Criterium, 23 laps that include the climb up Chilkoot Hill.
Asked what her expectations are during the race, Small said. "It’s so unknown and I really don’t know what to expect. I’m hoping to be able to hang in there, and to be able to contribute to Elbowz would be huge. That would be really cool if I could contribute to the race.
"It is a very realistic thing that I might not make time-cut on some of those longer days, I don’t know. Hopefully I finish the race… I would like my name to be in the results at the end."