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BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado (VN) — Kristin Armstrong was signing team cards. She paused for a few seconds, put the pen on a table spread full of promotional material for the USA Pro Challenge and placed her hands to her temples.
“If you have the capacity between your ears to really mentally get through the suffering and the training, then you still have it,” Armstrong said. “If you can’t, and the mind goes, get out of it. As long as I have the mental part of it still there, I’m there.”
Armstrong, who rides for Twenty16-Sho-Air, chuckled at her own words. She turned 42 years old last week. She’s a mother and wife and works part-time as she has throughout a long career, interrupted by two retirements.
The two-time Olympic time trial gold medalist and twice world TT champion also seems to have the energy to chase her goal to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics. She seized the opportunity to speak loud and clear on the eve of the race’s three-day women’s event that begins with her specialty, a time trial.
She reminisced and discussed the status of women’s cycling. She talked of riding for teams for the enjoyment of competition, rather than for a salary on teams where the “environments aren’t good.” She tried some comedy. And, she offered unsolicited, exuberant advice to the women who flanked her on the pre-race press conference dais.
“It was a different world while I was retired,” Armstrong said. “During those last two years, I had about three hip surgeries and about six hip procedures. I was laid up for most of that time. But being competitive, I had to compete against [retired NFL quarterback] Brett Favre. He’s retired a couple of times. People ask me all the time, ‘Why are you coming back? What’s your story?’ At the end of the day, you want to know why? Because I can. I love cycling.
“I am going to tell each one of these girls up here, if you don’t think this is the time of your life, you’re kidding yourselves. The minute you are finished, you are always going to look back at what we are doing today. Enjoy every moment. Enjoy the journey. And no matter what happens on the outcome of race day, it’s really about the journey. Every story I tell is not about the race, it’s about how I got there.”
Armstrong left the sport to raise her son and to recover from her multiple surgeries and procedures. She returned in April and has chosen a selective schedule that culminates next month at the UCI World Road Championships in Richmond. The top-three finishers in the individual time trial automatically qualify for next year’s Summer Olympics. If she doesn’t finish on the podium, she’ll compete in the Olympics only via a coaches’ selection.
In May, Armstrong was replaced by Tayler Wiles after confusion over the criteria used for the coaches’ selection to the Pan-American Championships in Mexico. Armstrong wasn’t pleased, but she diplomatically and graciously offered the team her support.
She isn’t the oldest woman in the pro peloton, but she has had to alter her training. She doesn’t compete as often and recovery takes longer.
“My new focus on time trial is sort of similar to someone focusing on marathon running,” she said. “I get to pick three or four really big time trials a year. I look at this race as part of my training load. I’m still climbing well, and I’m still time trialing well. But I can’t focus on any more a nine-day stage race.”
This season, Armstrong finished third in May in time trial at the Tour of California. At nationals, she won the time trial and finished eighth in the road race.
Armstrong shared the advice she read in book written by swimmer Dara Torres, the 12-time Olympic medalist who competed in the last of her five Olympics at age 41. Torres traveled with her nanny and a “stretcher.”
“I read that and I said, ‘A stretcher?,'” said Armstrong, who has lingering hip and lower back issues. “Are you serious, a stretcher? But now, I would choose someone to stretch me over a massage. Because I think that as we get older, that’s something that really works.”