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RICHMOND, Virginia (VN) — Three flags rose slowly behind the podium for the elite women’s time trial on Tuesday as Linda Villumsen‘s New Zealand national anthem played and a few hundred fans cheered the day’s victors. For the first time since 2011, the stars and stripes were absent, and on home soil to boot.
“I’m bummed,” said Evelyn Stevens. “I wanted to do well in this country, and I’m a little disappointed not to bring a medal home in the U.S.”
Only when measured against the U.S. team’s high TT standards can Tuesday’s results be considered anything but a success. The team still put two in the top 10, and three in the top 15. Stevens finished in sixth, 26 seconds off the pace of Kiwi Linda Villumsen and right behind teammate Kristin Armstrong, a two-time gold medalist at both the Olympics and world championship time trials. Carmen Small, who rode to third at worlds in 2013, finished in 14th, 1:27 back.
But American women have been a dominant force in international time trialing for a decade. Tuesday’s result arose in spite of an American squad considered to be the most formidable in this race. The trio earned both Olympic and world championship medals in the discipline in the past and came to Richmond confident in their ability to do so again.
There are broader Olympic implications of the podium shutout, implications that provided additional incentive, and pressure, to the American women. Per USA Cycling’s selection rules, a podium spot provides automatic selection for the Rio Olympics squad. Armstrong, Stevens, and Small were all hoping for automatic selection to the Rio team and will now have to duke it out for two discretionary selections.
The course favored a versatile rider willing to take a few risks on the many corners, and both Stevens and Armstrong admitted that they might have left a few seconds on course.
“If I was going to design a time trial course, I would not want to put ‘X’ number of corners in it for myself. I knew I had a big task because it’s probably not a course for which I’m suited,” Stevens said.
The Rio selection process is further complicated by the requirement that those racing the time trial also must race the road race. That could present a particular problem for Armstrong, who made it clear following her race that a return to a European racing schedule is off the table. With no European racing, selectors may be wary of including her in the four-woman road race team just so she can race the time trial. That said, she did win the inaugural Women’s USA Pro Challenge in August.
Visibly distraught after being pushed off the podium in the race’s final minutes, Armstrong relayed her concerns to a small group of reporters. “Now both time trial slots go to coaches’ selections, and I always find that very difficult,” she said.