Defending Olympic time trial champion Kristin Armstrong has big ambitions: nothing short of winning another gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London will do, but her 2011 season raised questions about her return to form following the birth of her first child.
After a winter of hard work, the 38-year-old seems to be back on track with time trial victories in the Women's Tour of New Zealand and this weekend's Merco Cycling Classic.
Armstrong retired from racing after winning the 2009 world time trial championship in order to start a family, but she never gave up riding, and headed out on her mountain bike just days before her son Lucas was born in September, 2010.
After a year of watching her former competitors from the sidelines, she realized her competitive urges had not gone away, and quickly got back to work preparing for the 2012 Olympic Games just one month later.
It took hindsight to see that her body needed more than five months to recover from creating a new life to return to peak competitive form, and it is clear that her psyche has recovered from the disappointment of being removed from the USA's team for the 2011 world championships.
"I knew that, competing five months after giving birth, I had to give my body time to get back to normal," Armstrong told Cyclingnews after sealing the overall victory at the Merco Cycling Classic. "I needed to have patience. Now I've had a perfect off-season and I am back to myself again."
Unlike other Olympic contenders, who can relocate to warmer climates for off-season training, Armstrong needed to remain in Idaho with her family for the winter, and that meant long hours on the indoor trainer. The tedium paid off with a solid victory in New Zealand over compatriot Evelyn Stevens, and with another crushing blow in the 19-mile Merced time trial, Armstrong is back on track.
With just over three months of racing to prove herself to the national team selectors before the June 15 deadline, Armstrong is taking every race very seriously.
"There's no time to mess around. There aren't any races after May 31, so it's now or never."
The number of places awarded to the various nations for the Olympic Games time trial was already decided on the results of the 2011 world championships, with the USA netting two spots. However, there are three women: Armstrong, Stevens and Amber Neben vying for those two positions, so Armstrong is keen to do all she can to prove to the selectors that she is worthy of one of them.
She will compete for UCI points with a focus on the Energiewacht Tour in April, which has a 15km time trial and team time trial, the Chrono Gatineau in May and her home-state Exergy Tour among other races. However, the national championships, which take place after the selection is decided, will take a lesser priority.
"I will have to come down after May so I can rest and then ramp up for the Olympics, so nationals are definitely on the calendar, but they have no bearing on the selection so it won't be a focus."