HIGHLAND, CA (CT) — Kristin Armstrong, the U.S. national time-trial champion with two Olympic gold medals and two rainbow jerseys to her name, stamped her authority on the rest of the women’s field at the Redlands Bicycle Classic Friday, winning the stage and taking the overall race lead by a large margin.
Armstrong won the 7-mile out-and-back time trial in 16:54, 22 seconds over Amber Neben (The Dare to Be Project), and 24 seconds ahead of Canadian Jasmin Glaesser (Rally Cycling).
More importantly, Armstrong took 1:06 from overnight race leader Mara Abbott (Amy D. Foundation), who had led by 33 seconds after winning Stage 2 at Oak Glen Village.
Armstrong now leads Abbott by 33 seconds, while Neben sits in third overall, a full 1:21 back with two stages remaining — the Redlands Criterium, on Saturday, and the Sunset Loop road race on Sunday.
With the strongest team in the race, Armstrong (Twenty16-Ridebiker) sits comfortably in the driver’s seat, poised to win her first Redlands Classic, a week after winning the overall at San Dimas Stage Race.
Armstrong said her victory was important, not only for the overall win, but to prove that, age 42, and after two retirements, she deserves a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in August. (The U.S. will almost certainly have four spots in the road race, with only one rider, Megan Guarnier, assured a spot. Of the four riders, two will also contest the time trial.)
“It feels good,” Armstrong said. “I’m excited that I could make back some of the time I lost yesterday, and that I can bring that gift of the yellow jersey to the team, since they protected me so much this week, so far. We have our work cut out for us, with the criterium tomorrow, and the Sunset Loop on Sunday. You never know what will happen here at Redlands.
“But this is the first step, the first checkmark off, on my road to hopefully get selected to [the Rio Olympic team.] Though it’s short, or long, a time trial is really important, it doesn’t matter if it’s a local or regional or internationally ranked race. When I show up on the time trial bike, I have to be on this year. This was my first race since last year, and I think I’m on track.”
Neben, a three-time winner at Redlands, lost time on the first stage, the Highland Circuit Race, after she spent three laps chasing alone following an ill-timed puncture, just before the time-bonus sprint. She lost time to Armstrong again on the summit finish at Oak Glen Village, and again during the time trial.
“There’s two days of racing left, and the hard racing is good for me right now, just getting my level up,” Neben said. “You hope everybody races, all the different teams that are up in GC, that there are some good tactical gamest that are played, and that everyone is going for it. It makes it more interesting, and it can open doors sometimes. Kristin is super strong, her team is strong. It will be interesting. We’ll see.”
Abbott’s participation was in the time trial was in question after x-rays revealed a collarbone fracture, sustained Thursday in a mid-race pile-up; Abbott went on to win the climb to Oak Glen Village and take the race lead.
Given that riding in the time-trial position puts significant strain on a rider’s neck and shoulders, Abbott had said she would make a game-time decision as to whether or not she would race.
“It wasn’t ideal, but you’ve just got to go out and do each little bit,” Abbott said. “You do one day, and you see how it feels, and then you wake up and do the next day, and you just have to take it bit by bit.
Asked why she chose to continue at Redlands with a fractured collarbone when she has much bigger goals later in the season — such as the Giro Rosa, in July, and the Rio Olympics, in August, Abbott said that she’d come to Redlands to race, and as long as she could race, she would.
“The reality is, in all likelihood, August is a while away. And I don’t even know if I’ll [be selected] to go to Rio. Nobody knows that, it’s far from assured,” she said. “I’m a bike racer. So I have to wake up and race my bike, if I can, because that’s what I’m supposed to do.”
Armstrong was complimentary of Abbott’s toughness.
“I really appreciate Mara. She’s a fighter, and such a fierce competitor. She’s in a lot of pain, and I have to respect that she’s just not willing to give up. Sunset Loop, I’d say next to the mountaintop finishes at Gila, are probably two of Mara’s favorite races, so you can never count her out. I’ve been her team director, and teammate, several times on Sunset, so I know how spunky and how excited she gets for this. I never start feeling at rest, or at peace, until the very end of Redlands. My team has a lot of work cut out for them, but I trust them. Including myself we have eight people here. They’re riding really strong, and we’re riding really strong as a unit, so I’m hoping we can keep the yellow jersey on our shoulders. We’ll do everything possible to make that happen.”