At 35 years old, Cylance Pro Cycling's Shelley Olds is likely nearing the end of her professional career. But the diminutive sprinter still packs the powerful punch the led her to the win at the inaugural la Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta last September in Spain and more recently second overall at the Santos Women's Tour in Australia.
Over the past eight years, Olds has also won stages at the Tour of the Gila, Tour of New Zealand, the Giro d'Italia Feminine, the Vuelta a Costa Rica and the Tour of Norway. She won major one-day races at Giro della Toscana, Winston-Salem Classic, Tour of Chongming Island World Cup, GP Costa Etrusca, the Pan American road race and the 2010 US national criterium championships.
Olds started her pro career with Pro Man Hit Squad in 2008 and has since ridden with Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12, Diadora-Pasta Zara, AA Drink-leontien.nl, Tibco-To the Top, Alé Cipollini, and Bigla Pro Cycling. She signed with the new US team Cylance in November.
Olds represented the US in the road race at the 2012 Olympics in London and was one of four riders in the winning breakaway that got away from the peloton late in the race. Olds missed out on the chance to sprint for a potential medal, however, when she suffered a flat tire near the finish and lost contact with the leaders. She eventually crossed the finish line with the peloton and finished seventh.
USA Cycling has named Olds to the long list for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, but she hasn't yet made the final selection. The number of riders the US is allowed to send and the final US roster will be announced later this summer.
Cyclingnews sat down with Olds late last month at the team's training camp near Cylance headquarters in Irvine, California, where she spoke about her 2016 plans, the new team and her desire to return to the Olympics road race in Rio.
Cyclingnews: What can you do ahead of the Olympics to make sure the US gets as many spots as possible?
Olds: Just earn as many [UCI] points as I can, because anytime I get a result, I'm getting a result also for the US.
CN: And that's your main focus for this year?
Olds: Not necessarily. I have been to the Olympics and I know that it's a long road that takes a lot, a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice, and you can do everything perfectly and you may not make the team. So I'm not going to be like, 'My whole world depends on making the Olympic team,' because it will not make or break me as a cyclist. I know what I've done up to this point. I'm proud of what I've done, and I would like to just have, in general, a successful year with the Olympics of course as one of my big goals. But it's not the end all, be all of my career. I know anything can happen to anyone going into the Olympics, so anything can change right up until that last moment.
CN: What do you know about the course, and what are your impressions?
Olds: I have not personally seen the course, but I have heard from many people who have seen the course, and the general feedback is that it's a very hard course and it's more suited for a climber, a pure climber. So if that is the case then my role in the US team would be more of a support role. So I understand that, but just to make the team is a dream, and it's something that I've been going for. And of course my experience in 2012 left me with a little unfinished business, so I'd like to go back and have another shot at it.
I always try to explain to people who don't understand cycling that road cycling is not the same as in the Olympics, like for example track running, where the 400 metres is always 400 metres and it's exactly the same no matter where you are in the world. But Olympic road racing can be from one extreme to the other. It can be for a climber or it can be for a sprinter. So it's a very different thing for us as road cyclists. I try to explain that to my family. So I don't know. I know I can help the team. I have shown over the years that I'm one of the top riders in America, and I believe in the Olympics you should have all of your top riders. So I hope that it works out and I'm able to go to Brazil.
CN: Have you set any other targets along the way or for the rest of the season?
Olds: Yeah. It's the WorldTour now and there are a lot more big races for us. Specifically, I just like to be consistent throughout the year, and coming from last year, which was like a disrupted year for me – the year before I had raced 56 or 60 races, and last year I raced 25 – so it was a huge difference. Last year was really like every race I had was like the world championships because it was the only race I had in two weeks. I had like two weeks and one race, two weeks and one race, so I never really got into rhythm of racing. And so I think this year with the team being small and us having a full calendar, will allow me to get into that rhythm and allow me to be more successful.
Shelley Olds stretching with her Cylance Pro Cycling teammates. (Getty Images Sport)
CN: You've done one race with the team now and you did well, with a podium stage and on the podium overall. How did the team work? [Cylance director Manel Lacambra] said that he was really happy with how well the team raced together. Was that also your impression?
Olds: Yeah. The feeling from the first moment that we've all come together has been really great. I describe it like how I used to feel when I played for a soccer team. It's like a really close group of people, and not just the riders and the staff, but also all of the sponsors and everybody that's involved, including the management. It just feels like a team in the purest sense of the word. And I feel like I've just come back home and I'm with my family again when I come back together with the girls.
That's really, really important and I think that's the first place that success comes from, just being a team and liking each other and being able to be yourself and feel comfortable around each other. Then your best can come out, and we have that on this team. In Australia, OK, it was early season and we were all coming from cold-weather places to really hot-weather places, and we were competing against almost all Australians, who just finished their national championships coming off the end of their summer, so they were in really good form and used to the race pace and we weren't. So we are happy with the result, because it wasn't easy to obtain.
CN: Talking about the family environment and everybody getting along, you had the team owner today invite you all to a barbecue at his house sometime this week. How rare is that?
Olds: It's very unusual. I've never had the title sponsor be so enthusiastic and so involved in the team and truly want the best for us. It's not about him and Cylance, it's about a team. I just get the feeling from everyone we've met this week in the training camp. Everyone will work together in some way. It's not just independent sponsors all coming together to support a team and just get your names out there. Everyone has something to gain from being a part of this project. It's something that's long term, and I think it's going to be really something big, and I'm so excited. I've been in cycling 10 years, and I've never had this feeling. Never. I've been a part of some really professional teams, but this one by far is the most well-rounded, professional, enthusiastic. It's just a really good thing.
CN: How important is it to have a sponsor like Cylance come into women's cycling and put together a first-year UCI WorldTour level team?
Olds: Huge. Yeah, it's huge. We also have a men's team. But the women's team is the primary thing. So it's the women's team and then the men's team, which is normally not the case, right, if we're honest. But it's really important that he wants us to achieve our goals. It's not about anything else, except that he's really passionate about cycling and he wants to be a part of it, and you feel that, and he wants the best from us. We were getting emails from him in Australia after every stage. That is unheard of for me, coming from the sport. I have never been so close to the title sponsor that's backing the team. It's just a really good feeling.
CN: Back to the Olympics. You came very close in 2012 except for a flat tire after making the final selection. How hard is that to take? I know you said it doesn't make or break your career getting back to the Olympics, but you have to really want to get back.
Olds: Of course I do, but I'd actually like to get back into the London race, that same situation and see what would have happened. Like I explained earlier, no two races will be the same for the Olympics. But, yeah, being a two-time Olympian would really be something that I'd be honored and proud and so, so happy to say, but the experience of the 2012 London Olympics is one that I will always remember and always be so proud of. It was an experience where I did everything I could and went through so much to get there.
I don't know if you know the history but I broke my wrist in March in a World Cup in Italy and I was off the bike for like two months watching all of the Americans get points and win races and qualify us into the Olympics while I was on my trainer at home. My coach was saying, 'Hey, don't worry about it. It's going to happen or it's not going to happen. Don't sweat it too much. This is bad luck, and just take it one day at a time.' And my first race back when I still had my cast on my hand, I won a World Cup. So I qualified for the Olympics. Then there was the whole arbitration to fight for the spots in the Olympics, and I thought I lost my spot again. It was right up until the last week or two before the Olympics that I actually knew that I was going to the Olympics.
So that was a roller coaster of emotions, and I'm sure it will be the same way this year, as it will be for every federation. I mean, it should be a big battle to get to the Olympics. But I showed up ready, and I was there. I wanted it so bad, and I was 100 per cent in the zone. It was pouring down raining and you couldn't even hear yourself think because the people in London were just so loud, clapping and cheering. It was like you had to get into this zone and focus. I was able to do that, and I made the move. We were going to the finish line and I was thinking about how I can win the sprint. And then, flat tire. Then I was chasing back to the bunch because I got passed by the bunch also. So I was chasing even to get into the peloton. And then I get into the peloton, but of course the race was over and they won the three medals. But I still sprinted for seventh overall.
So I was seventh in the Olympics, and I possibly could have been a medal. So who knows. But at any rate, it was an amazing experience, I don't regret any of it and I'm proud. I'm really proud.