Rio Olympic hopeful recovers from concussion in Tahoe, plans for Tour of California
At the 2012 Summer Games in London, women’s pro cyclist Shelley Olds was a flat tire away from a shot at an Olympic road-cycling medal. Competing for one of the remaining spots on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, it’s motivation she hopes to carry to Rio de Janeiro this August. This time, however, she will likely compete in more of a supporting role for the U.S. team, since the Rio course is expected to favor climbers over sprinters like herself.
Lingering concussion symptoms, however, following consecutive crashes while competing in Europe this past March, have Olds’ training plans in Tahoe on hold for at least the time being.
With Rio as the end goal, the decorated women’s cyclist is still planning on competing in this year’s Amgen Tour of California women’s race when it kicks off in South Lake Tahoe Thursday, May 19.
Hoping to get back on her bike soon, Olds spoke with the Tahoe Daily Tribune last week about the Olympics, training in Tahoe and all things cycling.
How is the concussion recovery coming along?
My symptoms are pretty acute right now. I would say I have pretty severe symptoms still. I’m just kind of waiting for it all to settle down. I’m happy I was able to go to Colorado Springs to the Olympic Training Center and get treatment, a diagnosis and a treatment plan, which I didn’t have. I was just kind of winging it.
I hope that just being here in Tahoe and being by the lake and being able to relax should be able to speed up my recovery process. I am hopeful that symptoms will settle down and I’ll be able to train.
You spend most of your time in Spain to be closer to the European cycling circuit. Why train in Tahoe?
It’s beautiful. I love Tahoe. It’s very close to where I live in California, so it’s not hard to get up here. The atmosphere is beautiful. It’s relaxing. You can focus 100 percent on training. Right now I’m in an apartment on the lake. The riding is amazing; you have all kinds of options. You can do different rides every day. I can stay here a month and change up my rides every day, week to week. There are places where you can’t do that.
Why train at altitude? Is there as much of an advantage as people say?
It’s the best way to improve your performance naturally. Many professional athletes all over the world have been doing it for years. It’s proven to work.
Having been here for the whole month, I should be acclimated. I should be able perform well in the first stage. Any races I do after that I should have good form.
It has worked for me in the past. I’m sure it will work again. I’m looking forward to it.
How did you go from a college soccer career to pro cycling?
It was kind of random how I got into it. When I moved out to California I started cycling because it was really huge. I didn’t have soccer to play anymore. I was looking for something to do to compete and cycling was possible every weekend and during the week. I just kind of fell in love with it and thought “OK, this could be a way to go to the Olympics potentially.”
I started on the track with the goal of making the Olympic track (cycling) team. But then they changed the Olympic program and they took my race out. So I switched over to road and that was that.
After coming so close to medaling in London, what did you take away from your first Olympic experience?
London was an amazing experience. It’s something I will always remember, probably as the best moment in my life. It was such a challenge, and it was so much adversity just trying to make the Olympic team. You train and compete for years prior to that to try to make the team. Then once you make the team your goal is to be in your top form on race day, which for us is one day, one three-and-a-half-hour race. Everything needs to come together. You need to be 100-percent prepared mentally and physically, and then of course have some luck, which I did not have on that day.
But I did show up to the London Olympic games 100-percent ready.
From challenging conditions to such a thrilling finish, what was that race like for you?
It was pouring rain. There were so many distractions. There were fans all along the course screaming and clapping. You couldn’t even hear yourself think. There were a lot of things that could keep you from having your best performance. But I believe I was able to get in the zone on that day. I had a plan. I was prepared, and I executed that plan. I ended up being in the winning move, with maybe 40 (kilometers) to go in the race I got a flat tire. That’s where my bad luck was. It happens in bike riding. It’s not uncommon.
I dropped back behind the main group. The breakaway that I was in went on to claim all three medals, which was really hard. But, again, it was an experience that I’ll never ever forget. I took away from it so much pride that I’ll always hold with me. I showed up. I was prepared. Unfortunately I had bad luck. I still finished seventh in my first Olympic games. I’m really proud of it.
How much motivation was that experience going forward?
It’s a great motivator, of course. You want to try to do it again. You want to try to make the team again.
How does the London course compare to the Rio course?
It changes so much from one Olympics to the next. This year is totally different from London. London was considered a flat course and had one climb in it. It was more geared toward sprinters, which I am. The course in Rio is very, very hilly. It’s geared toward climbers, which is not my specialty. But I do believe that I can help the team and that my role in this team is very important. If I make the team, I understand that. I would be there not to win, but to support the U.S. Olympic Team to win a medal. I believe we’re capable.
What do you think the chances are you’ll be able to compete in May at the Tour of California and get back on track for the Olympics?
I think it’s realistic. I’m very hopeful. I do hope to be participating.
I had this reservation in Tahoe for a long time. My plan was always to take a break in April to recover and start to rebuild again. The break has been a little longer than I originally planned, but there’s still a long way to go before the Olympics.
Taking a break now is what a lot of the best athletes in the world will do to be peak again for the Olympic games. Our race is Aug. 7. I’ve still got more than three months to prepare and build. I believe it’s very possible. I can be in my peak form come August.
How will the Tour of California compare to Rio?
I think the first stage (Tahoe) of the Tour of California is very hard and rolling. And there are some uphills, so someone who’s good at climbing will have success here. I think it’s similar. I don’t know how similar. There’s probably a little more climbing in Rio.
But yeah, it’s a high-level race. You’ll have a lot of the best riders in the world here so the competition is great. It’s a challenging course. Whatever happens here will be telling also of the Olympics.
What’s it going to take to win in California?
I think the Tahoe stage will be a hard race. There could be a lot of selections on the first day because of the terrain. It makes for a hard (stage), which could already set the GC (general classification). But then we have the team time trial, which makes it interesting too. They can affect the GC a lot. It’ll be an interesting tour just with that team time trial and the first stage being so challenging. For our team to be successful, we’re going to have to ride well as a team. We’re going to have to have most of our riders stay together and stay in the front group on the first day and not lose a lot of time; and then race well in the team time trial and go from there.