When Kristin Armstrong finished third in the USA Cycling Professional Road National Championships time trial on Friday, it looked as if it could be a big blow for her bid to be selected for the US team for the Olympic Games in Rio, but the two-time gold medallist in the discipline is still optimistic about her chances for selection.
Carmen Small (Cervelo-Bigla) won the title, with Amber Neben second at 23 seconds - Armstrong was a distant 1:08, an uncharacteristically poor showing for the defending US champion.
Armstrong chalked her performance up to the heat and humidity and the fact she just came off four days of intense racing at the Tour of California, which Small had not raced. Neben competed in the WorldTour stage race, but wasn't battling for the overall classification.
"I'm glad I still ended up on the podium. It wasn't what I wanted, but Carmen had a good ride and so did Amber," Armstrong said.
"It's pretty simple. I'm not from humid conditions, and after about 20 minutes I began overheating. If you saw my power file it just plummeted. I had difficult times in humidity before, but I felt like Chattanooga last year I had an early start, so I don't feel like I dealt with that then. The last time I dealt with this is Augusta in 2011."
In Augusta, Armstrong was again third by more than a minute from Evelyn Stevens and Neben.
Although the Olympic Games will be held in Brazil's winter, temperatures are still quite warm, averaging in the upper 70s and can still be quite humid, like North Carolina in the summer. But Armstrong says she can prepare for the conditions better when training at home rather than racing a full schedule as she was ahead of nationals.
"Both Evelyn and I were racing really hard in Tour of California last week, going for the top GC, and that was only four days before the time trial. We're training - my biggest goal is Rio. After Monday, I get to go home and prepare for Rio. That's going to be very time trial specific. Whatever the conditions are in Rio in August, there are techniques to acclimatize. Being on the road I wasn't able to do that."
Armstrong has raced a full road schedule this year with her Twenty16-RideBiker squad, winning both the San Dimas Stage Race and Redlands Classic, and coming second in the Tour of the Gila and Tour of California. Those results will also go a long way toward selection, since the riders who compete in the time trial must also fill the four-woman team for the road race.
For the time trial, USA Cycling selection committee will have a difficult decision ahead of it: their criteria is based largely on the concept of riders being 'medal capable'. With Small a World Championship bronze medalist, Neben a former world champion, and Stevens twice a world championship medallist in the time trial, there are four clearly medal-capable riders fighting for two spots in the event.
Armstrong argues that she has shown over the last year that she is the most consistent time triallist.
"According to selection criteria, it isn't based off nationals, that's not even listed in the criteria. It's not based on one performance. They look at your performances over the last 12 months, and I feel that I'm still podium capable. I feel I'm still the most consistent time triallist in the US. I feel like my chances are good, but all of us are probably scratching our heads thinking, what are they going to decide? It's not up to us. We've done all of the races we can do now (for the TT). We just have to see."