A month after giving birth, Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champ Kristin Armstrong is returning to pro cycling in hopes of joining the U.S. team for the 2012 London Olympics.
This makes her the latest cyclist named Armstrong to shake off retirement: Two years ago, Lance Armstrong staged a comeback to ride again in the Tour de France.
But Lance Armstrong's return didn't include one hurdle Kristin Armstrong faces:
Lance, a father of five, never had to stop for a breast-pumping break while on a four-hour training ride.
"Most likely, the biggest challenges are not going to be about my training, or nutrition, the things that a lot of people struggle with to be at the top," Kristin Armstrong said, while relaxing in her living room with her son, Lucas, and husband, Joe Savola. "It's going to be about the challenges of raising a child."
Armstrong joins several high-profile athletes who gave birth recently while at the peak of their careers. Paula Radcliffe, the British marathon champion, and Kara Goucher, an American who finished third in the 2009 Boston Marathon, had boys in late September.
And like Radcliffe, who ran 14 miles a day while pregnant, and Goucher, who logged 80-mile weeks with her baby bump, Armstrong rode until just days before she gave birth Sept. 15 including up the grueling 14.5-mile mountain road above Boise renamed the "Kristin Armstrong Bikeway" because it was her favorite training route for her 2008 Olympic triumph.
Armstrong, 37, retired in 2009 immediately after winning her second cycling world title in Mendrisio, Switzerland not because she'd tired of racing the clock, but because a different clock was ticking: She wanted a baby.
"I didn't know how long it would take me to have a kid," she said. "I was very fortunate, because it was only eight weeks after I came off the highest fitness level in my life that I got pregnant."
In her year away, she did everything Olympic champions do: Gave motivational speeches, touted chocolate milk on billboards for the Idaho dairy industry, even pondered a possible career as a bike racing commentator. Armstrong is also part-owner of a U.S. women's cycling team, Team TWENTY12, that she coached last season.
Going to races and not racing, it turns out, was tougher than it looked.
There's also this: U.S. female riders were absent from the 2010 World Road Cycling Championships podium, something that hasn't happened since 2004. It left Armstrong wondering: Could she do it again?
"After I'd gotten in all the Nordic skiing that I needed to do, I realized my competitive drive wasn't gone," she said.
If Lance Armstrong's story is instructive, however, it won't be easy.
Nearing 40, the Texan never regained the form that propelled him to seven straight Tour de France wins, instead finishing third in 2009 and 23rd in 2010, what Lance Armstrong says was his last time.
But Kristin thinks she's got a shot at beating the women's peloton at the 2011 world championship, planned for Copenhagen, as well as on the streets of London at the Olympics the following summer. Equally important, so does Jim Miller, her coach at USA Cycling.
"To be honest, I think a lot of women missed out on winning a world championship this year, because it's going to very tough the next two years" with Armstrong riding again, Miller said.
With toddler in tow, she'll alter her training, which begins in earnest Nov. 1. Gone from her schedule are those rain-splattered European spring classics in Belgium or Holland that she once used to hone her fitness. They'd demand too much time away from family.
Instead, Armstrong plans to take a less-glamorous route: racing against men in local races in Idaho's windy southern desert starting in February and March before focusing on the U.S. domestic race calendar.
Her husband, who runs the Boise-based bicycle component company she helped found that now supplies men's teams in the Tour de France, will travel with Lucas to races. While Kristin is out training, Joe also has two older sisters who will play nanny.
And she's already got this dream for 2012: Lucas, in Joe's arms, at the Olympic finish line in London, cheering her on not just as a bike racer, but as mom.
"It's going to give me extra motivation to get to the finish line faster," she said.
Baby on board,
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