The USA Cycling Elite women's time trial championships will offer a showdown between the nation's top time trialists on June 24 in Augusta, Georgia. Former World champions Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co Twenty12) and Amber Neben (HTC-Highroad) along with teammate and defending champion Evie Stevens will be among the powerhouse participants who will battle for a nomination to the UCI World Championships held in September in Copenhagen, Denmark.
"All eyes are going to be on the time trial because we have some of the best time trialists in the world," said Andrea Smith from USA Cycling. "The winner of the U23 men, Elite women and the Junior 17-18 men and women will qualify for an automatic nomination to the worlds team in Copenhagen, Denmark in September. There are only two spots so that is the big hang up, only two spots at worlds and this event will decide one of them."
Armstrong, a form two-time worlds winner in 2006 and 2009 and Olympic gold medalist in 2008, has made it no secret that she is targeting this year's world championship and next year's Olympic time trials. She returned to professional bike racing at the beginning of this year after taking a year off to give birth to her first child.
"There is a lot of pressure for this event, particularly because the US did not get that third spot at Pan Ams," said Peanut Butter & Co Twenty12 manager Nicola Cranmer. "Alison [Starnes] and Kristin are feeling great. Kristin is really relaxed and having her son around really helps. When she starts to feel a little tension, she looks are her baby's smiling face and it all goes away. She is feeling really good."
Neben is also a strong contender for the coveted spot having won the world championships in 2008. Her teammate Stevens won the individual time trial championships in Bend, Oregon last year.
All three contenders last participated against one another at the California Women's International Time Trial Championships held on May 20 in conjunction with the professional men's Amgen Tour of California. Armstrong won the head-to-head event ahead of Neben in second. Stevens placed fourth, Amanda Miller (HTC-Highroad) seventh and Alison Starnes (Peanut Butter & Co Twenty12) in ninth.
"We have a handful of really great athletes that could potentially do very well at worlds," Smith said. "Having a guaranteed spot to get on that worlds team is very important. Also, if you get on the podium at worlds, that qualifies you for an automatic nomination for the Olympic team."
A third automatic spot was available at the Pan American Championships held in Colombia in May. Clara Hughes won automatic worlds spot when she won the time trial ahead of Stevens and Neben.
"I feel as prepared as I can be coming off a stage race where you have no control over your efforts," Neben said. "I ended up riding a bit harder than my coach was predicting, but I think I will be fine. I have also been healthy the entire year, I have had good racing, and I have had great team support, so I am happy with how things have gone so far."
"The automatic nomination for worlds is huge," she said. "Everyone in the race knows that. I know it too, but I am not going to worry about it. Instead, I will go out and do my best, and trust that God will use me where and however he wants to."
USA Cycling published the selection criteria for the UCI World Championships, which allows a maximum of two participants that are aged 19 and over. Athletes may receive automatic nominations to the team based on the following prioritized criteria:
1. Any US eligible athlete placing in the top three (3) at the prior year's World Championships in the same event and category. In order to maintain their position on the Team, the eligible athlete(s) must continue to demonstrate the ability to finish in the top three (3) at the World Championships during the current racing season. This evaluation will be based on results from major international competition and current ranking on the appropriate UCI Individual Classification. If more than one rider meets this criterion, then the rider with the highest placing will be nominated.
2. The winner of the 2011 USA Cycling Elite National Time Trial Championships provided that race is held in its entirety and run under UCI regulations.
3. If positions remain, then athletes may be selected by the USA Cycling Selection Committee following USA Cycling Principles of Athlete Selection.
In addition, final nominations for women will happen if positions are still available following the automatic nomination criteria up to two (2) athletes may be nominated via the sole discretion of the USA Cycling Selection Committee following USA Cycling Principles of Athlete Selection to compete in the individual time trial at the World Championships. Nomination will be based on individual time trial results from time trials held in international stage races, international time trial events, and National Championships time trial results.
An Emphasis will be given to time trial results that were contested over distances equivalent to or greater than World Championship time trial distances and on courses with similar profiles to the World Championship course. And another key consideration in determining nominees to compete at World Championships will be time differences between US athletes at various competitions.