For professional cyclist Carmen Small, the past year has been pretty big.
Last Memorial Day weekend, Small won her first national title when she narrowly edged Kristin McGrath to win the USA Cycling women's time trial championship on the roads around the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant.
After finishing sixth in the event in 2011 and fourth in 2012, that victory by itself could have made for a successful season, but it was just the beginning of a special year for the Durango, Colo., resident.
Following her win at nationals, Small and Specialized-Luluemon teammates Ellen van Dijk, Evelyn Stevens, Lisa Brennauer and Trixi Worrack won the world title in the team time trial championship in Tuscany, Italy, and Small also finished third in the individual time trial at worlds.
"I can't complain, ending off with world championships and third in the individual," Small said Friday in Chattanooga as she prepares to defend her national title today at the Volkswagen plant. "It was a brilliant year."
The 2014 time trial nationals will be held today with the women's competition beginning at 11 a.m. and the men's starting around 2 p.m. In addition to the racing, there will be a fan expo, and Volkswagen will be offering test drives of the 2015 Volkswagen GTI.
For Tom Zirbel, who won the 2013 men's time trial championship, last year's success was a career-defining moment after he finished second at the U.S. pro time trial championships in 2008, 2009 and 2011.
"It was definitely a career goal for me, and a weight was lifted when I found out that I had won," said Zirbel, who rides for Team Optum powered by Kelly Benefit Strategies. "I had been close so many times. Early on [in my career] I'd think, 'Oh, I'm going to get it next year.' But years go by and you don't know if you'll ever get there and maybe second is the best I'll do."
"So it was really great to finally put on that jersey and wear the skinsuit for the entire year."
The battle for the national time trial title will be even tougher this year with the addition of Taylor Phinney, the 2010 USA Cycling pro time trial champion and fourth-place finisher in the time trial and the road race at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Zirbel dropped out of last week's Amgen Tour of California because of illness, and he knows the competition will be fierce today. But he is not worrying about who else will be starting today in the race against the clock in which riders leave the start at intervals attempting to put in the fastest time over the 19.2-mile course.
"My job is just to go as hard as I can, pace it well and ride a smart race," he said. "It doesn't really change for me. I just have to give everything I have."
With her success at last year's world championships guaranteeing her a spot in the 2014 competition this fall in Ponferrada, Spain, Small is focused more the international competition this season. She has had success this spring, winning the women's race earlier this month at the Tour of California, but she said her form is not what it was last year in Chattanooga.
"I definitely am not at the level I was last year at this time," she said. "But I also don't need to be, because I already have my world championship spot already from last year. So the pinnacle of the season for me is in September, so it's a little bit early for me to be going full out. The plans are a little bit different this year.
"We'll see what happens. I'm trying not to put a lot of pressure on myself about the race. To win it would be great, but if it doesn't happen it's not the end of the world."
Contact Jim Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6478. Follow him at 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 ...