After a season plagued by a niggling knee problem, Shelley Olds is keen for a fresh start in 2014 in the fluorescent colours of the Alé Cipollini squad. Indeed, the American spent the best part of two years managing the injury before calling a premature halt to her 2013 campaign in order to deal with it in earnest.
"It's an ongoing issue because it's like a tendinitis type-thing and I just have to manage it, but it's been really good this year," Olds told Cyclingnews at the Ladies Tour of Qatar.
The problem first manifested itself in early 2012, as Olds prepared for her ill-starred turn in the road race at the London Olympics, when an untimely puncture cruelly eliminated her from the winning break. Although Olds continued to race and win through 2012 and the opening half of 2013, she was eventually forced into the doleful decision to hand back her selection for the American team for the world championships in Florence.
"Of course, I wanted to be a part of the Worlds team, but unfortunately it was something I just couldn't push through anymore," she said. "It was a pity as I wanted to be there to represent my country and help the team, because it was a good course for the US."
Olds' arrival at Alé Cipollini marks her second spell at an Italian team, after spending the 2011 campaign in the colours of Diadora-Pasta Zara. The Philadelphia Classic could be Olds' only race on home roads this year, as she will race almost exclusively in Europe. It's a marked change from her 2013 programme at TIBCO in 2013, when Olds jetted back and forth to the United States, which she reckons may have exacerbated her knee complaint.
"I raced a ton in America last year – half the year in America, and half the year in Europe," Olds said. "It was too much because I was never training, I was always racing. I was never recovering, I was always racing. It was a case of racing, travelling, racing, travelling – and it was really hard. And I'm sure that sitting on the plane so much led to some of the problems that I had last year."
Given her record in the race and the fact that she rides for an Italian sponsor, Olds has highlighted the Giro Donne as the centrepiece of her season, and has also set herself the target of winning a World Cup race.
Another, newer event on her horizon, meanwhile, is La Course by Le Tour de France, which was announced only last week. The race will coincide with the final day of the Tour de France, and see the best riders in the women's peloton compete on the Champs-Élysées circuit.
Given her rapid finish, Olds is eyeing a prestigious victory in Paris for herself, but she recognises that the event is already something of a win for women's cycling, albeit just one leg of what remains a long journey towards a greater degree of parity.
"I'm very excited to go there and I think it's a big step for women's cycling," she said. "I think it's a start. Already a race like Qatar has been a good way to show that the women race just the same as the men. This is a race that's improved every year, and now the level is really very high. So I think we're going to see the same thing at the Tour de France."
Ultimately, Olds believes that holding races in tandem with men's events is the best shop window for women's cycling, given the captive audience already watching from the roadsides. Flèche Wallonne, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Tour of Flanders already follow this template, but reconnecting women's cycling to the Tour de France brand is perhaps the most significant stride yet.
"I think the issue is that fans just don't know that women have this high level of racing like the men," Olds said. "So anytime that the women race with the men, it can only be a good thing."