If the women's peloton has a patron, it's Ina Teutenberg: No other rider is so universally respected, feared, admired and obeyed. But the 2012 season with Specialized-Lululemon may be her final one as the German powerhouse considers retirement.
When she signed a two-year contract with HTC-Highroad, Teutenberg said that 2012 would be her final season, but looking down the barrel of the new year at the team's camp in Carlsbad, California, she didn't sound so certain about hanging up her wheels.
"I'm not sure. I'm doing Olympic preparation first, then team time trial preparations, then I'm going to have to sit down and decide what I want to do. So I'm not thinking about it," Teutenberg told Cyclingnews.
Teutenberg turned 37 in October, but even after racing her bike since the age of six, she still has at least one good season in her legs and has set her sights on the Olympic Games and World Championships for a chance at titles that, even with her storied career, she has yet to capture.
But if one opportunity makes Teutenberg's eyes light up with a spark of adrenaline-fueled fire, it's the team time trial which will be held for the first time in Limburg, the Netherlands at the UCI road world championships in 2012.
"I really want to win that one. It's one of the most gurelling events, it's hard and painful but it's the most satisfying to win," Teutenberg told Cyclingnews.
Her 2012 team is packed with time trial prowess, but even with former world champion Amber Neben, US champion Evelyn Stevens, Swedish champion Emilia Fahlin and German Charlotte Becker on the team it wouldn't be a surprise to see Teutenberg, who is best known as a sprinter, on the Specialized-lululemon squad for the inaugural event.
Teutenberg has always shown well in the time trials, but with the addition of the team event to the World Cup and now world championship schedule, she said she's concentrated more on training specifically for the race of truth.
"We've done so much technical development over the past year with the team and I think you get more motivated doing that. Before that I used to have the occasional good time trial, but probably not as consistently as I do now.
"It's something that keeps me motivated, to train a lttle differently. It's kind of a mental thing: even with the mountain stages I'm better now, too. You think you can't do it, but in the end you can, you just have to get over that mental barrier that says you can't."
She's won well over 100 races in her career, including two German national road championships, five World Cups including the women's Tour of Flanders, multiple stages of the Giro Donne, Tour de l'Aude and other top stage races, but aside from titles as a junior, the rainbow bands of the world champion have eluded Teutenberg.
Initially, coming third to Giorgia Bronzini and Marianne Vos at this year's Worlds in Copenhagen was devastating for Teutenberg. "This year was probably one of the best circuits ever for me and I wasn't strong enough," she said, but added that, in retrospect, she's come to accept that third was the best she could do on that course and on that day.
"You have to respect the others who are better," she said. "I probably did some tactical mistakes in the sprint, but the two were just stronger, I have to accept that. ... For sure you are pissed when you get on the podium and you just lost the sprint, it's not like you have so many chances to be world champion. But in retrospect I'm happy with the bronze, because they were way faster than I was. I wasn't tired, I wasn't anything, they were just faster."
She'll have her chance at redemption, perhaps, at the London Olympic Games, where it's expected that the road races could end in a bunch sprint. It might be a better bet than Worlds, where the Limburg course crests the Cauberg, which also serves as the finale of the Amstel Gold Race, in the final two kilometers.
When asked which one she would rather win, Teutenberg considered the question for a moment. "Either way, if I win an Olympic gold, I wouldn't be mad if I wasn't world champion. And if I'm world champion, I wouldn't be sad if I had only got bronze in the Olympics."
With just two trips up the 3km long Box Hill and plenty of kilometres of flat road for chasing after the final climb, Teutenberg is going into London with the goal of winning the race.
"It should be well suited to me, But you know how bike races are, it's tactical there could be a breakaway that goes..."
But first, Teutenberg, like her fellow Germans and her Specialized-lululemon teammates have to qualify for the Games. Places in the 67-rider peloton will not be determined until after May 31. Regardless of how the selections pan out, the team's goal is to win races, beginning, for Teutenberg, with the Merced Classic in California and the European World Cup and Classics.