After a summer of extreme highs and lows, Carmen Small questioned her future in professional cycling.
Ten years of focusing on each race schedule and dealing with team changes that became more frequent in recent seasons turned Small’s focus this offseason toward long-term goals. The 36-year-old professional cyclist from Durango contemplated retirement from racing, even after earning top results that included a second national championship in the women’s time trial in May.
Small was unsure of which route she wanted to take her career and decided to wait until after the world championships in Qatar to look ahead. That’s when she received a call from Bo Handberg Madsen, a man she has never met but shared a vision of what was next. After talking for hours about a development program in Denmark, Small signed a one-year contract with Team Virtu Pro-VéloConcept.
She will still compete in a normal race schedule on the world tour, but she will also be able to begin a mentorship to learn to be a team director.
“I’ll primarily be racing, and I’ll still do a decent race schedule,” Small said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “Primarily, I will be trying to teach the younger athletes what to do in race situations. I’ll give more eyes on the race to (Madsen) in the car.”
Small hopes to transition into becoming a team director in the future. She was one of eight to earn a scholarship to attend the UCI Sports Directors eight-day program. She graduated and was certified to direct a cycling team during a road racing event.
She called the new Denmark-based team a perfect fit for her long-term goal of becoming a director, and said earning the scholarship and graduating the UCI program were big steps toward that goal.
“I really want to help change women’s cycling,” she said. “If riders like myself and other women in the sport can stay in it, we can make a really good, positive change.”
Along with helping guide the young Denmark team, Small will be involved in the greater overall project behind it. According to Cyclingnews, Madsen will lead cycling academies, an elite testing center, build fitness apps and a fitness bike along with a mentorship program to teach the young riders the ins and outs of the cycling business. The goal is to prepare the riders not only to be professional world tour riders but also for life beyond cycling.
That’s something that inspires Small, who is a former math teacher and has served as coach to young riders for years. “I really enjoy the coaching piece of it,” she said. “It’s motivating to me to see the younger riders do well and make improvements. To be able to continue mentoring riders, that was a no-brainer.”
Small plans to compete in the USA Cycling national championships, the world tour and the Tour of California next season. When in Europe, she will still be based in Italy as she travels back and forth from Durango.
She hopes to stay with Team Virtu Pro-VéloConcept in 2018, when Small said the team will look to add a second director. It will be valuable experience that can open more doors down the road, and she expects the experience might someday benefit U.S. riders. “I’m going to learn to direct, learn to go in the car,” she said. “It’s a very different job. This isn’t a short-term project. They are trying to build one of the best world tour teams by building the Danish program up and really developing their riders.
“There definitely needs to be development in the U.S., but right now, there’s not really a place for me to do that. Right now, I hope to help via directing on the world tour level. I want to get to know different directors and help open doors for U.S. riders for placement on international teams.”