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Cyclist Kristin Armstrong continues on comeback trail

OLYMPICS

Armstrong, who won a gold medal in the time trial at the Beijing Olympics, had a son in 2010 and broke her right collarbone a few weeks ago. Armstrong was named to the USA women's road cycling team Friday.

June 15, 2012|By Diane Pucin
  • Kristin Armstrong is working hard to make sure a broken collarbone will not derail her chances of winning gold at this summer's Olympic Games in London.
Kristin Armstrong is working hard to make sure a broken collarbone will… (Franck Robichon / EPA )

Kristin Armstrong was blazing fast when she won the Amgen Tour of California women's time trial last month in Bakersfield.

She was, as Phil Keoghan, host of Amazing Race and owner of a women's cycling team, said, "racing a different race."

And less than two weeks later, while competing in a stage race in her hometown of Boise, Armstrong, 38, took a hard fall and broke her right collarbone. For a moment, Armstrong thought her third chance at the Olympics was over. She won a gold in the time trial four years ago in Beijing.

A day later, though, Armstrong had surgery and pins placed in the right shoulder. Five days later she was riding her bike outside. Friday she was named to the USA women's road cycling team having convinced the selection committee she's good to go.

Armstrong will be joined by Evelyn Stevens of Acton, Mass.; Shelley Olds of Gilroy, Calif.; and Amber Neben of Irvine on the U.S. road racing team. Armstrong and Neben will also compete in the time trial.

Temecula's Sarah Hammer was also named to the USA track cycling team. She was the automatic selection based on her omnium bronze medal at the 2012 world championships. She will also contest team pursuit with Dotsie Bausch of Irvine, Jennie Reed of Seattle and Lauren Tamayo of Asheville, N.C.

Since she won in Beijing, life has changed for Armstrong.

It's not that she was showered with riches or that her husband, Joe Savola, could quit his job as a mechanic and designer of bicycle pedals.

But Armstrong quit hers. She began running a cycling team instead of racing for one and in 2010 she had a son, Lucas.

Still Armstrong wanted to race.

After she got the news she had been named to the team Friday, Armstrong said, "It's a good thing I have a good, easy day planned tomorrow because it felt like all the energy went out of me. I just ran out of the office. It's such a relief."

One wouldn't expect a defending gold medalist to feel such relief, but Armstrong wasn't always feeling as if she was wanted by USA Cycling.

Last year she traveled to Denmark to participate in the world championships but by the time she stepped off the plane, Armstrong had received a text message from USA Cycling that Neben had been chosen to ride the time trial.

"That was part of the ups and downs over the last couple of years," Armstrong said. Savola said that moment of touching down and seeing the text was"devastating."

"But I decided that maybe my head was ready but perhaps my body wasn't," Armstrong said. "I had Lucas in September of 2010 and thought I was retired but then by November I wanted to race again.

"I would go to events and if I won I thought I should be winning by bigger margins and if I didn't win, I wondered why I wasn't winning. Finally my coach, Jim Miller, said I had to quit trying to be Kristin Armstrong 2009 and be Kristin Armstrong 2011."

Savola said his wife has learned to be a more organized and focused trainer with the birth of their son. "She just can't go for a training ride when she wants," Savola said. "She has to figure in Lucas's schedule. ... She comes back in from a ride exhausted and hopes Lucas is napping. Her competitors don't have that on their mind."

When Armstrong won the Beijing time trial, she destroyed the field, beating silver medalist Emma Pooley of Great Britain by more than 24 seconds and bronze medalist Karin Thurig of Switzerland by almost a full minute.

"This would be a great comeback," Savola said. "The baby and then the broken bone."

Armstrong said she has great family support. Her sister-in-law cared for Lucas when she went off racing in New Zealand and England and even when Savola is working and Armstrong goes off for a training ride in Boise.

"I'll find myself out on the road and thinking, 'I said I'd be home in two hours. I'd better be home in two hours,' and that gets me pedaling faster. Maybe that's a good thing."

Since coming back to racing later in 2010, Armstrong is eight for eight in time trials. And bumps in the road don't slow her down. Babies. Broken bones. She just keeps coming back.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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