Carmen Small wasn't sure she'd even be racing this year, and she certainly didn't expect to find herself in a news conference with national media included.
But the biggest surprise was finding herself putting on the Stars and Stripes jersey Saturday afternoon as the USA Cycling women's time trial national champion.
Small won her national championship by a tiny margin, edging Kristin McGrath by 1.25 seconds to win the USA Cycling Professional Women's Time Trial competition Saturday at the Chattanooga Volkswagen Plant.
Small finished the 19-mile course with a time of 42 minutes and 37.7 seconds, knocking Exergy TWENTY16 rider McGrath to second place just moments after McGrath had posted the best time.
"I'm pretty shocked to be sitting here right now," Small said at the postrace news conference. "I almost retired last year, so to be sitting here is kind of a shock because I wasn't expecting this at all."
Small, 33, said she seriously considered giving up the sport to start a family, but Specialized-luluemon team owner Kristy Scrymgeour gave her an opportunity to join the team in what now appears to be an inspired move.
"It's fantastic. It's always good for them to get their national title stripes," Scrymgeour said "She's new to the team this year, but she's on fire right now.
"She won a race in Canada last week, so I knew she'd have a really good race."
Small gave credit to her teammates and staff at Specialized-luluemon for helping her through a tough European campaign that ultimately prepared her for the success she had Saturday.
"Being on this team fosters winning and fosters being the best that you can be," she said. "I did three and a half months over in Europe, and as an American going over there it's not easy. It's really hard.
"But the staff pushes you and they push you beyond your limits. They're there to support you and give you the best equipment and whatever you need. ... It's a team that allows you to reach your limits, which shows today because I really didn't expect this."
Such a narrow loss was particularly tough to take for McGrath, who put in a strong ride and came up tantalizingly short of a national title.
"I felt great out there," she said. "My goal was to give it everything I had until I crossed the line, and if somebody beat me just know that they just had a better day. I think I did that, but losing by one second hurts more than losing by more."
Evelyn Stevens, one of the pre-race favorites and a Small teammate, finished fourth and said she was happy for her teammate's win but disappointed in her own form.
"I just had a bad day on the bike," she said. "I think I've been pretty lucky in my career to have good days sometimes. They always say that great riders learn how to be great on bad days. I guess I have to keep working on that.
"But you know, the time trial doesn't lie."
Alison Powers, the 2008 national time trial champion, started strong and set the best intermediate time at the halfway point, but McGrath and Small came on in the second half of the race, leaving Powers with the bronze, 12 seconds off the winning time.
Despite her third-place finish, Powers spoke for all of the women riders of their excitement about the addition of a women's pro championship this year run alongside the men with equal prize money and media attention.
"I feel honored, and actually I've never done a press conference before, and we get prize money," she said. "The last few weeks about the the big deal has been about equality with women's cycling, and now here we are. This is really cool.
"So thank you to USA Cycling and Chattanooga and whoever makes it happen. It means a lot, and I hope it just keeps progressing."
Contact Jim Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6478. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JFTanner.
Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...