Carmen Small, a world-class time triallist, has temporarily shifted her focus from road racing to a new endeavor on the track. She is the newest member of the US women’s team pursuit squad, and after contributing to their bronze-medal performance at the final World Cup of the season in Cali, Colombia, she rejoins the team at the UCI Track World Championships this week in St. Quentin en Yvelines, France.
Small has been at the top of her game in road racing for the past five years. She won the team time trial with Specialized-lululemon at the UCI Road World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain, last year, has earned a bronze medal in the individual time trial at Worlds and is a former US national champion in the event. They are all highlights from a long list of road racing accolades that make her, at least in theory, a great fit for the team pursuit.
After some rest and recovery from a long road season abroad last fall, she decided it was time to take her cycling career in a different direction. When USA Cycling offered her an opportunity to try the team pursuit, inviting her to two track camps to test her legs with the other members of the successful women’s team, she jumped at the chance.
“It was a big chance to take because I’ve never done track,” Small said. “They didn’t know what they would get out of me and visa versa, I had no idea how I would actually perform.
“We gave it a shot to see what would happen, and if it all failed I could still go back to the road. We thought outside the box a bit. It was an unknown for them and for me too, but so far it’s worked out.”
Small joined the US women’s team pursuit squad at two track camps, and spent a little over a week training on her own to get used to the feel of her track bike and riding on the velodrome.
She spent roughly three weeks in total preparing for her first track event, which was the final World Cup in Cali in January, joining teammates Ruth Winder, Jennifer Valente and Lauren Tamayo.
They ended up winning the bronze-medal round against the Italians, while the Australians won the gold-medal round against the Chinese team.
“It’s all really crazy,” Small said. “I was super happy about it. It was hard because everything was so brand new, it was my first track event ever. The expectations were so big and I had to fill really big shoes.
“The girls on the team are so experienced and so good at what they do, and I have a ton of respect for them. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get the job done and to do my part on the team. I put a lot of stress on myself.
“I had no idea what to expect. It was very intense and quite the experience. I experienced every emotion humanly possible.”
USA Cycling announced the riders that would be competing in the women’s team pursuit at the World Championships to also include Tamayo, Valente, Winder and Sarah Hammer, a five-time world champion in the individual pursuit and a two-time world champion in the omnium. Hammer will also be competing for another world title in the omnium in France.
Hammer and Tamayo were members of the US team pursuit squad that secured the silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics, that team also included Dotsie Bausch and Jennie Reed.
“All the girls have been really supportive and awesome,” Small said. “They give me advice, critique my technique, it’s a team effort, very collaborative. The whole experience has been great, motivating and supportive. It makes me want to work really hard, being in that environment.
“Sarah Hammer is absolutely an incredible athlete. Just to be around her, the bar is set pretty high and so I think all of our expectations are high. All the girls are very experienced. They’ve all had input into helping me learn.”
Small, and the rest of the US women’s team pursuit squad, spent the last two weeks on the velodrome in Mallorca, Spain, fine tuning their track racing skills and form before Worlds. They will begin with the team pursuit qualifying rounds on Wednesday, and the team pursuit finals will be held on Thursday.
After Worlds, Small will get back to more familiar ground with road racing and begin preparations for the season ahead. She plans to spend some of the season racing in Europe with the US national team, while domestically, she will race with the US-based UCI team Twenty16 p/b Sho-Air and focus on events leading up to USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships on May 23 to 25 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the World Cup at the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic.
“Nicola [Cranmer] offered me a pretty sweet contract,” Small said. “She is so supportive of the riders, which is pretty incredible. She was completely supportive of my track goals and working with the US team. It worked out to be a really wonderful fit and I totally love supporting what she is all about with the juniors and the education. It was a very good fit for both of us.”