Olympic hopefuls Abbott and Armstrong ready to battle in Tour of the Gila

Mara Abbott claimed her fifth dominant victory on the opening stage of the Tour of the Gila on Wednesday, this time putting a massive 2:31 into her nearest rival and upping her stakes for selection to the USA team for the mountainous road race at the Rio Olympic Games. But two-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong (Twenty16-RideBiker) is eyeing Friday's Tyrone time trial to turn her 2:34 deficit around.

Abbott broke her collarbone at the Redlands Classic earlier this year just before soaring to the stage win and race lead atop the Oak Glen climb. She raced through the pain of the fracture, but lost 1:06 to Armstrong and was unable to make up the ground.

"It was broken through but it was a horizontal fracture so it wasn't displaced, so that was pretty lucky," Abbott told Cyclingnews. "The funny thing was that I learned over the next few days that the most comfortable position was to hold my arm like you'd hold the bars. While I was riding I didn't feel it, I felt it in my neck and in my head, but I didn't realize there was something wrong with my shoulder. But when I stopped it was pretty excruciating to pull my arm back into position."

Abbott still was able to show her climbing abilities, and the fracture wasn't much of a setback over the course of the last month.

"I spent some time on the trainer but it's funny. I live in Boulder, and a lot of people came to Boulder to get a chance at altitude, and they got treated to a springtime Colorado snowstorm. So I spent some time on the trainer, but in Colorado that's what happens in the spring whether you have a broken collarbone or not. I don't mind the trainer."

As for the Olympic selection, Abbott said she hopes the coaches take notice of her performance on Mogollon. Armstrong's chance to shine will come on Friday, in the 26.4km time trial. She holds the record with a 37:13 achieved in the last Olympic year in 2012, a good 1:20 quicker than Abbott's best time.

Armstrong is well acquainted with the climbing abilities of Abbott, even though the pair haven't faced off at the Tour of the Gila. Abbott took a hiatus from cycling in 2012, while Armstrong retired after London and only returned to the sport last May. She wasn't surprised to lose 2:34 to Abbott, but is confident she can gain most of it back in the time trial.

"I might have lost a couple minutes, but that can be made back on Friday," Armstrong said. She is confident of her abilities because she has kept meticulous records of her power data since 2006 and knows she is on track.

"I'm right on par with 2012. It's so great with the technology, we run Quarq power meters, and I have a chart I can refer to and do the comparisons, and I'm right on track."

The Tour of the Gila is just the beginning of her campaign to earn her spot for Rio when the selectors make their final list in June. She's following a similar trajectory as 2012, one that began that year with total domination of the Tour of the Gila.

"It's the same kind of plan. You can't really replicate this race in American in the calendar - the terrain, the racing, five days at altitude, if you go home and rest properly, your level of performance goes up a notch. Leading into Tour of California, which is a Women's WorldTour race this year, and nationals in Winston-Salem three weeks out, it comes at a perfect time. I love it here."

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Laura Weislo
Managing Editor

Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Managing Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks. Laura's specialises in covering doping, anti-doping, UCI governance and performing data analysis.