Reigning Olympic time trial champion Kristin Armstrong (Exergy-TWENTY12) decided not to start the stage 4 criterium of the Cascade Cycling Classic Saturday despite leading the overall race by more than two and a half minutes, choosing instead to head home to Idaho and prepare for the upcoming London Olympic Games.
Exergy-TWENTY12 team director Simon Cope said Armstrong, who broke her collarbone in May and just returned to racing at Cascade, didn't want to risk another crash that could end her chances of winning a second gold medal.
"Obviously, criteriums are a quite dangerous aspect of the sport," Cope said. "And this close to London you can't take any chances. It's a sensible decision. I spoke to the commissaire as well, and he said if it was him going where Kristin is going, he wouldn't do it either. She's got a gold medal to think about, and there's a good possibility of bringing another gold medal back to the US."
Armstrong won the 4.5 km opening prologue by eight seconds over Now & Novartis for MS rider Alison Powers, who took over yellow after Armstrong's departure. Armstrong won the 120 km stage 1 McKenzie Pass Road Race by bridging to a late-race breakaway and then leaving the riders in her dust. She added a third-consecutive win at the 25.8 km stage 2 Crooked River Time Trial, this time beating Powers by 1:17 over the rolling 25.8 km course. She finished 11th on the stage 3 Cascade Lakes Road Race Friday and maintained an overall lead of 2:37 over Powers.
"She rode well in all the time trials, which were obviously dress rehearsals for London," Cope said. "You need to race to keep your form, but there are certain things where you have to think, 'Well, actually no, I'll give that one a miss.' She has proved her point all year, so we'll see now how that unfolds next Wednesday."
Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies team director Rachel Heal agreed that Armstrong made the right decision and said she believed all of the other riders in the race understood.
"She's 100 percent focused on London, and rightly so," said Heal, who added that Armstrong's departure would completely change the dynamics for Sunday's stage 5 Awbrey Butte Circuit Race.
"I think it's going to make for a much more exciting race," Heal said. "Obviously, if you're in a race, you want to race against the best competition, but I think Kristin's in a class of her own at the moment. The race that would have gone on for second anyway – because there are so many riders so close – is now going to be amplified because suddenly it's for the win and not second place."