Carmen Small still hurts. Not even standing on the top of the podium could change that.
The professional cyclist from Durango was back to doing what she does best Wednesday in Oregon. Weeks after being left off the USA Cycling team selected for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and one week after losing her appeal through a costly arbitration case, Small was back on her bike seat at the start of the five-stage Cascade Cycling Classic.
Small, 36, won Wednesday’s opening stage, an 89.4 mile climb up McKenzie Pass that featured 4,365 feet of climbing and 1,868 feet of descent. She crossed the finish line in 4 hours, 13 minutes, 27 seconds in a group of five other women.
“To be honest, I didn’t want to race,” Small said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “I pulled out of Salida last weekend. I couldn’t do it, and I still had mixed feelings about coming to this race.
“I haven’t been training the way I normally would. I was broken mentally.”
Before the start of the race, many people approached Small and shared their condolences about being left off the Olympic roster. She said that conjured up all the emotions she was hoping to put aside before the race.
Kristin Armstrong, the 42-year-old two-time defending Olympic gold medalist in the time trial who was selected ahead of Small on the Olympic team, finished fourth Wednesday. The two will go at it again in Thursday’s time trial stage. Small is the reigning national time trial champion, while Armstrong was 1 minute, 8 seconds behind in that race.
Thursday’s time trial will cover 16 miles through Crooked River Park in Prineville, Oregon.
Wednesday’s road stage started slow, Small said. After not training much, she didn’t know what to expect of her own ability, and she was unfamiliar with many of the American women after spending much of the season competing in Europe. She competed in the event in 2012 but still didn’t remember much of the course.
“The gradient wasn’t too steep, and I just followed. I attacked one time to wake myself up,” she said.
Wednesday’s stage was Small’s first with her new team. She left Cervélo-Bigla Pro Cycling a few weeks ago and recently signed with Cyclance Pro Cycling, which is based in California.
Small rode with new teammate Krista Dobel-Hickok, who made a strong attack with roughly 5 kilometers to go.
“There was a big group of us, and the last 3 kilometers I was thinking, ‘How do I win this?’ I tired to be patient and attacked with 1K to go,” Small said.
Small rode off the back wheel of Tara Whitten, the Canadian time trial champion. Whitten went hard with 200 meters to go, and Small said she went around her with 50 meters to go.
“It was tight at the line,” Small said. “After, I was glad I could get the job done and get a good team result for Cyclance.”
Small said Thursday’s time trial course is a hilly out-and-back. Though Small was happy to get the opening-stage win, she isn’t getting too excited about the rest of the race just yet.
“It would be great to keep going at this race, but it’s a long stage race,” she said.”At this point, I’m going through the motions and taking it day by day.”