American Carmen Small made the final step in her transformation into one of the world's top time trialists, netting the bronze medal in the elite women's event at the UCI road world championships in Florence, Italy on Tuesday.
Until she won the Chrono Gatineau and US national time trial championship in Chattanooga this May, Small's best time trial finish was a win in the Nature Valley Grand Prix in 2012, the year she won the overall National Racing Calendar individual standings, but a switch from a purely domestic programme to an international one was key to her success.
Small moved from the Optum team to the Specialized-lululemon squad this year, and already claimed a world title in the team time trial with her trade team on Sunday.
"I made some big jumps this year, and the team has helped so much. My training didn't necessarily change that much, but I did do all European racing which is a big switch from doing all the US racing. It puts you at a higher level because the races are so different."
She had her first international stage win at the Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen this year, but a trip to the podium at the world championships was not what the former volleyball player and Nordic skier expected. "I'm so shocked and surprised, it's really good."
The bronze medal was a little bit bittersweet, however, because her own national- and trade-teammate Evelyn Stevens came in fourth place, a mere four hundredths of a second slower over the 22km course.
"It is really hard," Small said of pushing Stevens off the podium. "Obviously she wanted to podium as well, and she's my teammate, she's my friend and my countryman, so it's not nice to beat my teammate like that ... [the gap] is a pedal stroke. And to be four seconds out of second place as well, that's nothing."
Time could be lost at any point on the course, which looped back and forth along the Arno river, but the same technical twists and turns in the city center which the TTT course traversed were likely the key.
"I knew [the gaps] were going to be tight going into this race because of how technical it was. Some girls were saying it wasn't that technical, that the corners weren't that bad, but you have to carry your speed."
Small had inspiration coming from the team car, where Team USA's performance director Jim Miller was calling out turns and pushing her to ride harder throughout the 28:16 test.
"I've never hurt so bad in my life," she said. "I didn't pace, it was all out from the gun. The whole day was get to the corner, try to recover, go all out.
"I've never hated [Miller] so much in my life," she joked, adding more seriously that she had requested Miller's presence in the car after he did the same for her during the national championships.
"He's really clear on the radio, he's very good and positive, and it makes a big difference."
Small will now turn her focus toward the road race, where she will try to help one of her USA teammates win another medal.
"I'll be giving it all for the team for the road race. I came in knowing I was going to be a worker, and that's my job anyway. I'm excited to do whatever I can to make it happen for the other girls. I have good form so I feel like I can really help a lot."
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