Taylor Phinney and Carmen Small will wear the stars-and-stripes jerseys for the next year.
They may have a chance to wear them at the Rio Olympics.
Phinney won the men’s U.S. time trial championship and Small captured the women’s title on Friday, giving them the right to wear the coveted jersey in future time trials. And while they don’t guarantee a spot on the U.S. team for Rio, their results certainly make another convincing case for selection.
“I’m looking forward to putting the kit on for the first time, hopefully soon,” Phinney said. “I was just here to show myself ahead of the Olympics and try to have a good ride. It’s always good to get an hour-long time trial in, which is something you’d never do normally.”
Phinney covered the 31-mile course in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1 hour, 2 minutes, 45 seconds to win his third U.S. title. Tom Zirbel was 1:10 behind in second and Alexey Vermeulen was third.
Phinney, who finished fourth in the time trial at the London Games, didn’t get a chance to wear his last stars-and-stripes jersey. After winning the time trial two years ago, Phinney was involved in a high-speed crash during the road race that left him with several broken bones and nearly ended his cycling career.
The rehab kept him out of cycling for more than a year. He returned in time to have a solid performance at the world championships last fall in Richmond, Virginia, but still had something to prove to USA Cycling.
“Taylor showed that he was in a class above the rest of us,” said his BMC Racing teammate Brent Bookwalter, another Rio hopeful who finished fourth on Friday.
The Americans only qualified two road slots for Rio, along with two in the time trial, which means those who go must compete in both events. The U.S. probably has a better chance at landing a time trial medal, and that means someone with time-trial prowess – such as Phinney – should have the inside track.
Most of those in contention were in attendance in Winston-Salem, but Andrew Talansky skipped it ahead of the Tour de France. He beat Phinney in the time trial at the Tour of California.
“It was super difficult and I didn’t really have a lot of fun. But that’s how it is with a time trial and I signed myself up for this event,” Phinney said, “so I knew what I was getting myself into. Honestly, I didn’t really feel very good. It was a tough mental battle the whole way.”
Small sprung an upset in the women’s race, covering the 20-mile course in 42:32 to take gold ahead of veterans Amber Neben and two-time and defending Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong.
Small was the bronze medalist at the world championships three years ago, so she has a strong pedigree in the “race of truth.” But with Armstrong trying to make a statement in her comeback from retirement, most expected her to lay down the kind of time that would make her selection for Rio a no-brainer.
Now, the picture of the women’s team heading into the Summer Olympics is muddy as ever.
“I’m so stoked right now,” said Small, who beat Neben by 22 seconds and with Armstrong more than a minute behind in third. “It was a hard course, so I didn’t want to go in the red and had to be patient and carry that speed into the next climb. ... I had the plan in my head the whole time. It couldn’t have gone more perfect.”
The road nationals will conclude Saturday with the men’s and women’s pro races, where Matthew Busche and Megan Guarnier – the only rider whose spot on the Rio team is secure – trying to defend their titles.