Carmen Small made an emphatic statement in her case to race in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Small, who rides for Cervelo Bigla Pro Cycling Team dominated the field Friday at the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Time Trial National Championships in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The time-trial specialist from Durango finished the hilly 33-kilometer race in 42 minutes, 31.91 seconds to claim the title, her second time trial national championship and first since 2013.
“In 2013, I was pretty shocked to have won,” Small said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “The past two years I took second, and that was hard but I wasn’t sad by those finishes because they were stressful years. This year, I knew I had the fitness and could do it. I’m so happy to put it together in the end.”
Small didn’t just win, she dominated. Each rider went off in one-minute intervals, and Small was behind Amber Neben. The way the course is set up, Small could see Neben the entire way and knew she was gaining ground on her. Small wasn’t sure if Neben was having a bad ride or not and didn’t know exactly how strong she was racing. In the end, Neben took second in 42:54.51, nearly 23 seconds behind Small. The two finished well ahead of third place Kristin Armstrong Savola, who crossed in 43:40.47.
“You can never know exactly where you are,” Small said. “I tried to stay within myself and be consistent, and I did it. It was a pretty flawless ride.”
Small credited her team for helping her prepare for the course and come up with a good strategy in the days leading up to the race. She said it was one of the toughest time trial courses she has ever raced, with constant rolling hills and no flat stretches.
Friday also was Small’s five-year wedding anniversary with professional mountain biker Benjamin Sonntag, who will compete in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic in Durango this weekend.
“I was probably just as nervous as Carmen,” Sonntag said. “I’m really stoked for her. She’s put in a lot of work this year, and I could see how motivated she was. Hopefully this is the final dot on the I for her ultimate goal of making the Olympics this summer.”
Small said her Olympic hopes were what made her so nervous Friday morning. She’s had a strong season in Europe, claiming three climber’s jerseys in different events and a top-five finish at one of the world tour events. In the winter, she was named to the short list to be selected for Rio and knew she had to have a strong spring to secure her spot. She will look for one more strong ride Saturday in the women’s pro road race.
After that, she will catch an early flight back to Durango and hope to see Sonntag race in the IHBC mountain bike race Sunday.
“To see her at the finish line after my race will be incredible,” Sonntag said. “I can’t wait.”