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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

An interview with T-Mobile's Kristin Armstrong, October 29, 2003

The other Armstrong: More than a water-carrier now

Kristin Armstrong

Born: August 11, 1973,
Live in: Boise, Idaho
Team: T-Mobile
Height: 173cm (5ft 8in)
Occupation: Professional cyclist; B.S. Exercise Physiology


13th, World championships individual time trial
3rd, Pan-Am Games individual time trial
9th GC, Thüringen Rundfahrt
17th, Montreal World Cup

7th, HP Women's Challenge

Editor's note: Despite the coincidence of names, this Kristin Armstrong is not the same as Kristin Armstrong, from whom Lance Armstrong has recently separated.

After seemingly coming out of nowhere in 2002 to membership of top US women's team T-Mobile, Kristin Armstrong has spent 2003 building a solid palmares as a talented pro rider. She tells Kristy Scymgeour how she came to cycling, her goals for next season and her secret addiction.

Kristin Armstrong has been road racing now for only two years and has already earned herself a spot on T-Mobile, the de facto US women's national pro team. This year she finished her season with some exceptional results to her name. In July she placed ninth overall in the seven-day Thüringen Rundfahrt and more recently thirteenth in the time trial at the World Championships in Hamilton. Her long season has also apparently resulted in a serious addiction to Diet Coke, according to her teammates!

Armstrong crossed over to road racing from triathlon in late 2001, and quickly moved up the ranks. Less than a year later she found herself in her first European road race - the 2002 edition of La Grande Boucle Feminine, the women's version of the Tour de France. According to those who raced it, that was one of the hardest editions of the race to date, and it was a baptism of fire for Armstrong, still a relative rookie. In France, Armstrong learned the duties of a domestique for the first time, including literally being a water-carrier for the team. "I've got eight water bottles shoved down my jersey and I'm looking at the impenetrable wall of international riders thinking, 'How am I going to get up to the front of the peloton to hand these off?'" she says, telling her favourite story from the race. "Over the radio, a seasoned teammate told me the magic word I'm supposed to say: 'Aqua'. I tried it, sort of expecting a parting of the Red Sea. Apparently I'm no Moses, because not a single butt moved to make way. It was only later that I learned the word 'Aqua' had to be several decibels louder and accompanied by an aggressive shove to the hips."

At the Pan-Am Games
Photo ©: USA Cycling
Testing bike set-up
Photo ©: USA Cycling
In the world's time trial
Photo ©: Robert Naish
In the world's road race
Photo ©: Robert Naish

Shoving people out of the way wasn't part of the skill set Armstrong acquired in her previous sporting life, but going fast on a bike was. Originally a triathlete, she completed the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii in 1999 and was happy with the way things were going in her triathlon career. She had her sights set on the 2004 Olympics, till things went wrong for her in the middle of 2001.

"What I thought was a nagging injury turned into a life-changing diagnosis," explains Armstrong. "In June 2001 I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both hips. Any sort of impact activity needed to come to a screeching halt. Just when I thought my days of a competitive athlete had ended and my days of 'the real world' were coming, my arm was twisted and I was asked to race with a regional team at Cascade. I thought 'what the heck - I have nothing to lose'. I had a great time, Cascade was beautiful, the team was friendly and I found a new challenge. Still moving ahead with my new 'real world' plans I returned from Boise and was at work at 8am Monday morning. Fall and winter came quickly and a local team (Goldy's) was having their meeting to discuss 2002 plans and asked me to join them. Sure enough, the competitor I am, I couldn't resist the opportunity to race. It was going to be great - a few local races, two or three regional races and of course, living in Boise, the HP LaserJet Women's Challenge. Not a big schedule, I can work, train and race on the weekends. After a few local races, Solano, and Housatonic - to say the least I was hooked. Three weeks later, the Women's Challenge in my backyard came around and fortunately I had some great results that brought me great offers for 2003."

T-Mobile noticed Armstrong at the 2002 HP Women's Challenge when she placed seventh overall in her first major tour, and was second to Diana Ziliute after the pair broke away on the final stage. She was immediately invited to join the team for La Grande Boucle. "I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into, being that it was my first race in Europe and all, but three weeks later I still enjoyed the staff and the team, a big sign that this was the team for me. The rest is history. After a year on the team I still really enjoy racing for T-Mobile. My teammates, the staff and support are unbelievable. It takes a real special group to be on the road 100+ days a year together. They're like family."

In the last year Armstrong has gone from strength to strength and is now considered one of the top US riders. How did she make the change from triathlon to cycling so smoothly? "I have a coach. He happens to be not only my coach but also the director of our team - Jim Miller. Jim has a real passion for coaching. Prior to being hired as the director of T-Mobile he started a coaching company called Peak to Peak Training. Jim has been a very supportive and knowledgeable coach all year. I have really enjoyed his unique training program along with his ongoing dedication to my program. So I have him to thank for my improvement. I also contribute a large part of my success to my surroundings. The environment I train in along with all of the support I have on a daily basis from my family, friends, coach, boyfriend, sponsors and of course all my friends at T-Mobile - I couldn't do it without them."

Armstrong's success in Thüringen this year proves that she has adapted well to road racing as it is perhaps one of the technically tougher races on the women's International circuit. "I definitely love racing in Europe. The terrain is equally beautiful and challenging. What more can you ask for when racing your bike? I really enjoy one-day racing as well as stage racing (five to seven days is perfect). I like it all! My favorite stage race of the year was Thüringen Rundfahrt and my favorite one-day race was the T-Mobile International. I am sure once I become a bit more experienced in the next year or two, I will definitely find my forte."

Armstrong considers her recent time trial result at the World Championships in Hamilton to be her best result. "Even though it wasn't my highest placing I would have to say that 13th in the Worlds TT has been my best result to date. It was a great way to end my first season as a pro. I have high goals for the future. My coach and I took this year as a stepping-stone to see how my body was going to respond to higher amounts of training, racing and being on the road. I have learned so much this year and am ready to continue the learning curve as we enter 2004. My number one goal in 2004 is to be one of three women who represent the United States in the Olympics. Racing beyond 2004 is part of my future plans - as long as I am still having fun and am being challenged on a daily basis I doubt that will be a problem."

This year Armstrong not only had to adjust to racing on the road, but also to life as a professional athlete. "Being on the road week after week and then coming home for a few days at a time was an eye-opener for me. I felt that my days at home were filled with repacking, getting together with friends for dinner nightly, phone call after phone call and of course, getting reacquainted with my boyfriend. Those became what I would consider my hobbies while at home. At the same time while traveling I had to figure out what to do during my down time, besides eating pasta and bread. I have been coaching triathletes, which has been a lot of fun and has created a hobby for me while at home and on the road. Prior to signing with T-Mobile I worked for three years as project manager for an advertising and marketing agency - Oliver, Russell and Associates. With great support they have welcomed me back during the off-season. They have been very supportive and accommodating through my athletic endeavors. I couldn't ask for a better situation."

My final question to Armstrong was not one she was overly enthusiastic to answer: how much diet coke does she actually drink a day? "This is one of my biggest secrets," replied Armstrong. "To give you a hintů between my teammate Kimberly [Bruckner] and I we should really start looking into Coca-cola as a sponsor."

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