It didn't take long for retired, six-time US criterium champion Tina Pic to jump from her director's seat in the team car back into the fray of the women's peloton. After stepping away from competition following the 2009 season, Pic is lining up this weekend with her Colavita/espnW Pro Cycling Team at the Alexian Brothers Tour of Elk Grove in Suburban Chicago.
The three-stage race started Friday with a 7.25 km time trial and continues for the women Saturday with a 60-minute criterium. The Tour of Elk Grove concludes Sunday with a 120 km circuit race.
Pic, 46, broke out of nearly three years of retirement at July's Exergy Twilight Criterium in Boise, and she did it with panache, placing fourth in her first race in nearly three years behind Kristin McGrath (Exergy-Twenty12), Alison Powers (Now & Novartis for MS) and current US criterium champion Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Exergy-Twenty12). A recent move from Atlanta to Hailey, Idaho, put Pic in proximity of the Boise race, and some friends persuaded her to give it a go after a few impromptu motorpacing sessions.
"I just jumped in, and I was pretty nervous," Pic said Friday as she got ready to tackle the opening time trial at Elk Grove. "And I'm pretty nervous again. Because I'm not very fit. I haven't been training a lot."
One of the most accomplished cyclists in the pro peloton, Pic won virtually every major criterium in North America over her 15-year career as well as the overall US Speedweek Criterium Series title. She also won two gold medals in the road race at the Pan American Games and raced with the US team at six world championships.
Pic served as co-director of Colavita's women's pro team in 2010 with Rachel Heal and advised the US National Team at several European races this spring. She returned to the Colavita pro squad this season as co-director with former teammate Iona Wynter Parks. She had won the last race she participated in, the Boston Mayor's Cup Criterium in September 2009, but she didn't know what to expect when she lined up in Boise.
"When you kind of jump in mid-season, people are so race ready and race fresh, they've got the snap," Pic said. "And I don't really feel like I've got the snap yet, and I don't have a base under me. I was just sitting in the back a lot of the time, I wasn't being a hero. But then I knew that I had to move up, and that was a lot of knowing when to move up and where to be, riding a lot of wheels and knowing who to be around. I think you don't lose that part. I'm not sure that I really have the legs or anything."
But her top-five finish during the criterium only increased the volume and number of voices that were urging her to repack the skinsuit and race bag for the next event.
"Then they said I should do Elk Grove, and I thought, 'Oh, this is a bad idea, especially because it starts with a time trial,'" Pic said. "It's one thing to sit in a crit. It's another thing to do the race of truth."
Pic held her own over the 7.25 km course, coming in 1:43 behind winner Powers for 42nd place in the 60-rider field. But she said her recent racing goes beyond looking for her own results. It also provides a chance to better communicate with her riders during the action. Colavita/espnW riders Kathryn Bertine, Jamie Dinkins Bookwalter, Joanie Caron, Moriah MacGregor and Mary Zider are racing with Pic at Elk Grove.
"I thought it would be nice to be able to talk to the riders somehow," Pic said. "Since they took the radios away you feel worthless back there [in the team car]. So I thought it would be kind of nice, even if I was at the back. In a road race sometimes [riders] will drop back to the car. But in a crit they can't do that. And you can't do much from the side of the road. As a rider you can barely hear what's going on. You're so focused on what you're doing. Every once in awhile you can hear your name, but if someone tries to tell you something, you don't hear it."
So does this return mark a more permanent comeback from retirement for Pic? Will there be more races? "I might do one more this year." she said. " I want to see if I can get Iona [Parks] out. I haven't been able to convince her yet."
And what about next season? Any plans to jump into any races next year? "Maybe," Pic said. "You never know."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.