Carmen Small’s Road to Rio: ‘the racing will be more dynamic this year than ever before’

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As the UCI road calendar kicked off at the Santos Women’s Tour in Australia last week and women’s peloton is now  readying themselves for action in Qatar, American Carmen Small has yet to put the first race kilometres to her name.

Cervélo-Bigla was not invited to Qatar, which was a disappointment to say the least. The American hopeful for Rio wanted to start off her season in the Qatari desert but was forced to make other plans when the decision by the organisation turned out to be irreversible. The team is currently enjoying a training camp in Mallorca, where preparations for the season are being finalised and the new kit was revealed. Carmen Small will now start the season in the team’s first race, Omloop het Nieuwsblad at the end of February. She is also lined up to start at the first ever Women’s WorldTour event, the Strade Bianche, a week later.

With the countdown to Rio entering a crucial phase now, Carmen Small gives insight to how she works toward her goal of being selected for the stacked American team. Her road to rio began when she transferred from Team Twenty16 to Bigla Pro Cycling in July of last year, just days before making her debut for the team at the Giro Rosa. This was her second transfer within a year as she had only just joined Team Twenty16 after some highly successful years as part of the Specialized-Lululemon squad.

“Twenty16 works very closely with the nationals team and allows athletes the flexibility to race what they need to in order to be successful,” said Small, who joined Twenty16 with a focus on track racing, specifically the team pursuit as part of Team USA.

In the end, it led her not to the team pursuit, but to Bigla Pro Cycling, when a spot opened up after fellow American Shelley Olds left the team. Just a month before, she had impressed everyone by competing in the North Star Grand Prix in the men’s field. So instead of qualifying for Rio on the track, she decided to continuing road racing.

The focus has now shifted to the Olympic road race and more importantly, the Olympic time trial. Having won the world championships team time trial twice and earning bronze at the world individual time trial championships in 2013, Small’s ambition will be Olympic gold in the time trial.

She has already made it on the longlist of the US selection along with nine others, among them Evelyn Stevens, current US road champion Megan Guarnier and double national, world and Olympic time trial champion Kristin Armstrong.

Her competition for selection is tough and qualifying is an all-encompassing goal. With that said, Small emphasizes it’s equally import to still be having fun on the bike.

“As soon as you are putting too much pressure on yourself and not enjoying every minute, you won’t succeed. I will be doing everything this spring to prepare myself to make the selection for the Olympics, but at the same time I will support the team in what ever way they need. This is a team sport and that comes first.”

"This is a team sport first."
Carmen Small, here with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio at training camp: “I will support the team in what ever way they need. This is a team sport and that comes first.”

An important step for the team, as for other professional women’s teams, has been the introduction of the Women’s WorldTour, with guaranteed spots for the top UCI teams.

“Being recognized as WorldTour is important to women’s cycling and the growth and success of the sport. I’m excited that we have a WorldTour and really looking forward to those races,” said Small. “I hope that this is just one more step to help propel women’s cycling in the right direction and this leads to more improvements in the sport.”

As for her expectation of how the races are going to be, Small expects not to see much difference from previous years, due to the rapid professionalisation of women’s cycling in recent years.

“I think the racing will be the same, the level of the sport has grown every year so that shouldn’t change,” she said.

It can’t be denied though that all races, up until the Olympic selections are announced, are going to be with Rio at the back of everyone’s mind.

“As it’s an Olympic year, I think that the racing will be more dynamic than ever and in every race the teams will bring their A game,” said Small. “Every race is important and if it’s not me trying to get a result it will be a teammate, so as a group we will be try to get the best results we can.”

The Olympic year means everything is dominated by Rio and to a lesser extent by the World Championships in Qatar, being held later in the year than usual, which makes the Olympics-Worlds combination a feasible option to go for. Plans for the rest of the year and beyond are therefore not on Small’s mind right now.

“As of now, my focus for this season is primarily the Olympics and World Championships,” she said.

There’s another month before Cervélo Bigla will be showing the new outfit for the first time, at Omloop het Nieuwsblad on February 27th, with Small debuting in the new colours here.

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