Kristin Armstrong & the Pan Am Championships

So Kristin Armstrong is selected for the national team for the Pan American Continental Championships after being retired for the past three years, without riding in a single event in the lead-up to the Championships? According to a press release posted this afternoon by USA Cycling, this does appear to the the case. Unfortunately for the women who have been actively racing over the past three years, this is not a good thing; and it’s not good for cycling.

(April 14, 2015) – USA Cycling announced its women’s 2015 Pan American Continental Road Championships roster on Tuesday, and with it, the return of two-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong. This roster announcement marks Armstrong’s return to Team USA, which ends a three-year hiatus.

Armstrong, who won back-to-back Olympic individual time trial gold medals in 2008 and 2012, as well as two ITT World titles in 2006 and 2009, will compete in the event at the Pan Am Continental Road Championships, which will be held May 5-10 in Leon, Mexico. She won the Pan American Continental Time Trial World Championship in 2005.

As an aside, for the record, there is no such thing as the “Pan American Continental Time Trial World Championship”; it’s just the “Pan American Continental Time Trial Championship”.

Were there no qualified women available who have actually been actively racing for the past three years? Perhaps riders like Tayler Wiles, Evelyn Stevens, or Megan Guarnier who have been placing on or near the podium at the National Championships; and in Ms. Stephens’ case, on the podium at the 2014 World Championships?

Moreover, instead of taking a spot of way from other deserving riders, shouldn’t Ms. Armstrong be working with USA Cycling to help discover and develop new talent? What evidence does USA Cycling have that her competition form will still be what was years ago?

Shouldn’t Ms. Armstrong also have to qualify for the national team the same way that most other riders do; by actively racing and winning (or placing) in various qualifying selection races over the past several months, or at the very least within the past year?

Sure, the Principles of Athlete Selection allows for a lot of discretion by the selection committee, but shouldn’t USA Cycling focus on the future rather than the past?

Generally, criteria for qualification to rider on the National Team for Championship events are to be:

  1. Medal Capable.
  2. Enhancing Team Performance.
  3. Future Medal Capability.
  4. UCI top-ranked athletes. The UCI maintains an individual classification for most cycling events. An athlete can typically be considered as top-ranked if he/she is among the top-five (depending upon the event) USA Cycling Athletes at the end of the calendar year or at the end of a specified time period, and meets the criteria also of being ranked in the top positions of the list such as the top 50 or 100 overall.

Specifically, the selection criteria for the Pan American Continental Championships are:

  1. The highest ranked U.S. eligible athlete on the 2015 UCI Individual Rankings Classification as of April 13, 2015 provided the athlete is ranked in the top twenty (20) of the 2015 UCI Individual rankings classification.
  2. If positions remain after considering the proceeding criterion, then athletes may be selected by the USA Cycling Selection Committee following USA Cycling Principles of Athlete Selection.

Certainly Ms. Armstrong was medal capable in the past. I’m not entirely convinced of her current ability to enhance team performance or of her future medal capability, as she has no recent results. One thing is for sure: since Ms. Armstrong has been retired for the past 3 years, she is definitely NOT one of the current UCI top-ranked athletes.

After all, as the selection criteria indicates: “it is of utmost importance to send our top UCI ranked athletes, or those athletes that we expect to be our top-ranked athletes, to these events so they have the opportunity to earn additional International points that impact our UCI Nations Ranking and ultimately our qualification of start positions for World Championships and/or Olympic Games.”

It also begs the question as to whether all the other applicable rules been followed? By the time the Pan Ams come around in July, will Ms. Armstrong have been back in the UCI out-of-competition testing pool for 6 months, as required by UCI Anti-Doping regulation 5.7.1?

5.7.1 If a Rider in the UCI Registered Testing Pool retires in accordance with the UCI Testing & Investigations Regulations and then wishes to return to active participation in sport, the Rider shall not compete in International Events until the Rider has made himself or herself available for Testing, by giving six months prior written notice to the UCI.

As the UCI discovered in the recent CIRC report, people don’t look very highly upon exceptions being made for a big-name rider. In 2009, there was an incredible amount of criticism directed towards the UCI for allowing that other Armstrong to compete at the Tour Down Under just a few weeks before he was technically eligible. With the Pan Am Continental Championships starting on May 5th, I certainly hope that Ms. Armstrong’s written notification to the UCI was definitively submitted and accepted by the UCI prior to November 5th of last year.

Of course, it’s also very likely that none of the other women with any hopes of making the national team selection for future World Championships, Pan Am Games and/or Olympic squads will speak up for fear of alienating the selection committee for discretionary spots.

Unfortunately, even winning selection events doesn’t guarantee making the team, as Chris Horner can attest, after winning the first of 3 Olympic trials events in 1996.

In fact, despite being one of the best cyclists in the United States since the mid-1990s, Horner didn’t make his first Olympic team until 2012, at the age of 40. Prevailing wisdom is that his non-selection is because he didn’t come up through the national team system, didn’t play the political game, and was way too outspoken. It has made him a popular rider amongst fans, but not generally with the powers that be at USA Cycling.

It’s a near-certainty that as difficult as it is to make a living as a woman cyclist, that no one will want to risk the same treatment.

So how does the issue get resolved? It’s imperative that USA Cycling be held to higher standards than they have been in previous years. Right now, this is not happening. So as members of USA Cycling it is our responsibility to let them know how we feel. Things won’t change unless we make it happen.