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Kristin Armstrong has secured her place at September’s UCI world time trial championships in Richmond, Virginia after capturing her fourth U.S. national TT title in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Twenty16-Sho-Air rider delivered a course record time of 42:08 over 19.2 miles at the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial Championships.
Armstrong’s Twenty16 teammate Carmen Small — who won the national title in 2013 — placed second at 13 seconds back, with Visit Dallas Cycling’s Amber Neben scoring the final podium spot 18 seconds off the winner’s pace.
“I felt like I had a really solid ride today,” Armstrong told VeloNews. “I have to give it to Chattanooga. This is a true time trial course. It has a little bit of everything. It has flats, it has a hill, it has technical parts, and it has the speed. It was a good day on a really fair course.”
Now one of the sport’s most veteran riders at age 41, Armstrong pointed to both fitness and experience as determining factors in her win.
“The thing is that when you have a 42-minute race, you look back and say, ‘Maybe I could have gone harder [in a particular spot].’ But when you go harder in one place, sometimes you end up going slower on a climb, for example. So today was one of those days where I think experience really may have made a difference.”
For Armstrong, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, the win was a critical step on the road to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — with a strong showing at worlds likely to lead to a place on Team USA.
But Armstrong’s road to Richmond has been circuitous. With two of the nation’s three spots already locked down, Saturday’s national championships were very nearly “do or die” for the Boise, Idaho resident.
“Personally, there was a need to win. [Today] was a very high priority,” Armstrong explained after the race.
Boels-Dolmans’ Evelyn Stevens (who placed fifth on the day in Chattanooga at 43:06) secured the first of three spots with a third place finish at the 2014 world championships in Ponferrada, Spain. Carmen Small (Twenty16-Sho-Air) secured the second with a win at the recent Pan American championships in Leon, Mexico. As national champion, Armstrong automatically qualifies for the third.
“Coming into Chattanooga I knew that I wanted to win,” Armstrong explained of her situation. “Carmen and Evelyn already had spots for Richmond, so if either of them won I knew I’d still have a chance [as a coaches’ selection], but I knew that the route I really wanted to take was to get an automatic [spot on the world’s team] so it wouldn’t become a question of discretion.”
USA Cycling originally named Armstrong as a member of the nation’s Pan Am squad. But shortly thereafter, the governing body reversed course, naming Velocio-SRAM’s Tayler Wiles to the team after reverting to a previously published set of selection criteria.
At Saturday’s press conference, an emotional Armstrong made her unhappiness with the selection process clear.
“I saw an opportunity to participate at Pan Am through the criteria that were published by USA Cycling. And when I saw that I qualified under those criteria I decided to put my name in to be selected. [After my selection] the criteria changed. They reposted the old criteria and I was not qualified any longer.”
For Armstrong the issue was one of fairness.
“The last thing I wanted was anything handed to me. I didn’t want any favors. But I’m going to tell you that I know the process to get into important races. I can recite the criteria. So I’m really happy that I was able to come to Chattanooga and show — on my own, on the road, and with my team and husband fully behind me — that I could do it without being selected as a discretionary [choice].”
Armstrong was also critical of USA Cycling’s decision not to start her among the race favorites. In a field of 40 riders, the two-time world champion was the day’s third rider out of the start house — a placement typically reserved for lesser riders.
“When I got my number last night, I was really disappointed,” Armstrong told VeloNews. “When a like group of competitors are up against one another and a world championships spot is on the line, I really and truly feel strongly that we should have been placed against one another. And I don’t think there’s any doubt who the top 10 riders are in America. [The placement] was a mistake. But as a competitor all you can do is take what you’re given and go for it.”
For now, however, Armstrong is putting her frustrations in the past.
“My next goal is Richmond and I have to keep that right in front of me,” she explained.
And as for Rio?
“Everyone always asks me, ‘what’s next?’ And this might sound strange or funny but I didn’t even know what was next today until [the race was over]. I’m just really happy it worked out.”
VeloNews’ Dan Wuori will be in Chattanooga all weekend. For updates on the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial Championships, follow Dan on Twitter at @dwuori.