the spill heard ’round the world
The freak crash of Kristen Armstrong in the opening stage of the Exergy Tour has done more than kick wide-open the door of opportunity for those in that race … it’s also unhinged the selection for the US women’s Olympic cycling team.
I was glued to the TourTracker coverage of Exergy during the prologue. It was clear as sky that Armstrong had the fastest time going into the final kilometer. Hell, even in the start ramp – her calm, but incredibly focused demeanor just vibrated with a champion’s desire. She looked like she had won that thing before the first pedalstroke went down.
Out of the technical opening few hundred meters, Armstrong snapped her bike forward and man-handled the thing for more speed. She was pushing huge wattage in the middle section of the prologue, and you could see her using every angle and lever on her body to advantage. She wasn’t as smooth as I’ve seen her pedaling in the past … but it was powerful.
She went into the 180 degree turn 2k into the race at a faster clip than I’d seen anyone except maybe Ina Teutenberg attack it. Her line looked good, position solid and smooth … and then in a flick of an eye, she was down. Hard. That she got up so fast and finished the final K with such ferocity is yet another indication of this woman’s strength and willpower. But, as she crossed the line – the tell-tale cradling of her arm and the tears of realization, less than pain – all indicated that she was out for the race, and maybe out for the Olympics.
Armstrong’s tears could be felt viscerally.
With only a couple of months until the Olympics, the US selection committee will have to make some very, very hard decisions as to who they will send to London to compete for gold and glory.
In 2011, when Armstrong first came out of retirement to take another shot at the Olympics – there were more than a few nay-sayers who thought she was passed her prime. And her first few months of competition made her actually appear mortal – there were many who had doubts, including me.
But in 2012, after a winter of forging all her new ‘mommy-strength’ into a fiercer, stronger, tougher woman … Armstrong re-created that speed and determination that made her one of the most intimidating women to ever race a bike.
There hasn’t been an event in 2012 where she hasn’t delivered the goods – powering up climbs, slicing through winds and echelons, and of course … dominating against the clock. It looked to be a foregone conclusion that Armstrong would be selected for the 2012 Olympics, especially when she had already been selected (then de-selected) for the US World’s team in 2011, even without the superlative results she’s amassed in 2012.
But now, she’ll go under the knife tomorrow for a snapped collarbone. It’s true that surgical technology can be over-the-top efficient nowadays … and Armstrong might very well be plated, stitched up, and back on the trainer before the end of the Exergy Tour. But, there could also be complications, infections, non-mending of bones … and those things may take weeks to develop and diagnose. So, when the 2012 Olympic selection was already going to be a complex, crazy, star-chamber process … now that Armstrong has become injured, the selection process has just gone chaos theory in a bottle. Confused, muddled, and no logic in sight.
The Tour Must Go On
With the unfortunate departure of Armstrong from the Exergy Tour, the GC battle for the $100k purse (and critical UCI points) will be an absolute street fight. TIBCO’s yellow jersey, Tara Whitten, is no slouch on the climbs, but will TIBCO want to defend for the rest of the Tour? Tomorrow is 75 miles of sharp, jagged riding through unforgiving territory – and it will be fascinating to see how the racing unfolds.
Specialized-LuluLemon have the superior hand, with accomplished climbers and TT specialists in Neben and Stevens … not to mention Clara Hughes. It is hard to think that anyone will be able to keep that juggernaut team from grabbing the jersey before too long. But for the first road stage at Exergy? It’s not a good idea to bet against TIBCO.
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