This is a big week for Pan-Am gold medalist, Carmen Small. She flew to Europe on Tuesday where a new bike, new team and new adventure awaits her.
Small signed with Bigla Pro Cycling Team less than 10 days ago, and on Friday she’ll line up in the blue-and-white kit for the Giro Rosa, her fourth start at the Grand Tour.
Upon the departure of sprinter Shelley Olds, a spot had opened up on the Swiss-registered squad, and General Manager Thomas Campana was quick to reach out to Small, who was getting a lot of media attention while guest-riding for the elite men’s Elbowz Racing at the North Start Grand Prix.
“It all happened really fast,” Small said. “Thomas sent me a message during North Star saying that he had a spot opening up on the team and wanted to know if I was interested. I asked if we could talk after the race –because I was pretty overwhelmed with the racing at that point.”
They didn’t get a chance to speak until last week, just three days before the cut-off period for transfers closed. Small had to make her decision quickly.
“The team offered me a good programme for the rest of the season,” Small added. “I couldn’t say no. I had to take the contract.”
In a season that has been dominated by upheaval and uncertainty, it seems Small has finally found stability. After two very successful road season with Specialized-lululemon in 2013-2014 that included a national time trial title and two gold medals in the team time trial at the Road World Championships, Small announced her intention to move away from road racing and focus on the team pursuit for the Rio Olympics. At the time, it was unclear if her Specialized-lululmeon team would continue.
“[USA Cycling Vice President] Jim Miller asked me if I would do the team pursuit,” Small explained. “It was a really good opportunity to see what I could do. They were smart in reaching out. I was a benefit to the team. I brought a lot of power, but I also had a lot to learn. I was good but I wasn’t the best. Had I stuck with it, I think I could have closed the gap.”
“I think they were trying to think outside the box,” Small said. “They need to bring in athletes to the track program. My team at the time seemed on the verge of folding. The timing was right. I had always wondered what the track would be like. It seemed like it was beneficial to us both.”
Small signed with the American-registered Twenty16 p/b Sho-Air program run by Nicola Cramner. The team is well-known for releasing its athletes to race for Team USA in Europe and, despite being a road team, supports riders that want to focus on the track.
“I didn’t necessarily want to change teams last year,” Small said. “I was happy where I was. Switching to track seemed different. I was okay with that.”
Small spent the first half of the season training on the track and racing with Team USA in Europe. In early May, she headed to Mexico for the Pan Am Championships where she won the gold medal in the individual time trial. The result earned her a start in the individual time trial at the 2015 Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia later this year. A second time trial victory at GP Gatineau provided an additional confidence boost.
“When I started racing more on the road, that’s when I realized how much I missed it,” Small said. “I missed being outside. I missed the sense of passion and joy I had while road racing and time trialling. It’s just a whole different feeling, and it was a feeling I wanted back.”
With support from Twenty16 p/b Sho-Air, Small began to search for guest rides. She landed a spot at the North Star Grand Prix where she raced with the elite men’s field, but her calendar for the summer was looking sparse. The Road World Championships loomed, and Small began to feel frantic.
“I knew I needed to race,” Small said. “Twenty16 wasn’t doing any European races, and I would only have a few races with the US National Team in my programme. I was looking to fill the gaps and try to get in as much racing as possible before Richmond.”
“According to UCI rules, if you’re on one UCI team, you can’t guest ride for another UCI team,” Small explained. “Because Twenty16 is a UCI team, that really limited my options.”
“The message from Thomas came at the perfect time,” Small added. “It all just fell into my lap.”
Small expressed deep gratitude for Twenty16 for releasing her from her contract to allow her to sign with Bigla. It’s the next step in the many steps Small, hopes to take en route to the ultimate objective: the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“I really appreciated that Twenty16 and USA Cycling have been so supportive of me,” Small said. “I know it’s tough for teams to let riders go mid-season. I’m definitely sensitive to that. Nicola and Mari [Holden] have been great to work with, and I can’t thank them enough. I’m not leaving the team for any reason other than that I need the racing.”
“I want whatever race days I can get so that I can perform at the highest level at Richmond,” Small explained. “I don’t care what the means – leading out teammates, doing lots of work at the front of the peloton, whatever. Chasing results myself is great, but I’m really not worried about that right now. I simply want to race my bike.”
“This is a stepping stone to Richmond,” Small added. “Richmond is a stepping stone to Rio. Every small goal I have is to get to that big goal, which is Rio.”
And the Giro Rosa is that next small step. Small raced the Italian Grand Tour with Team USA in 2010 in support of overall winner Mara Abbott. The last two years, Small raced the Giro Rosa with Specialized-lululemon. As for her fourth start, she’s modest about her personal ambitions.
“I’m going in pretty blind,” Small admitted. “I’m getting on a bike I’ve never ridden the day before the race begins. I’m excited to get on the Cervelo, but it’s going to be an interesting transition. It’s not ideal to start a 10-day stage race on a new bike, but we’ll make it work. We’ll do the best we can. That’s all we can do.”
“I can’t have a personal goal given the circumstances,” said added. “Every day I’ll ask myself: ‘What can I do to help the team?’ ”
Small will race with Bigla through the end of the 2015 season. Follow her journey to Rio here on Ella or on her website and social media sites – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For further reading on Small, don’t miss this excellent piece by Bonnie Ford.
For more Giro Rosa coverage, stay tuned to Ella for daily race reports, daily rider dairies and a daily round-up of links to content out of Italy (and Slovenia).