From Olympic cyclists and world-class mountain bikers to those who defy gravity on skateboards and dirt bikes, Idaho is full of wheel pioneers.
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5. Kristin Armstrong Savola, wearing a black team cycling jacket, faded jeans and orange running shoes, walks casually into the downtown Boise coffee shop, orders a coffee and grabs a seat at the table. The 38-year-old Olympic gold medal cyclist just returned to Boise after winning races in New Zealand and California and seemed happy and relaxed. No doubt, it has something to do with her new role as mom to 18-month-old Lucas and her current determination to be at the 2012 Olympics.
“Having Lucas has changed my priorities just in the 18 months since he was born,” she says. “These days, I’m a mom first and a cyclist second. Of course, I’m 100 percent committed and serious about my job, which is cycling, but as any parent knows, having a child definitely changes things on the totem pole.”
Armstrong and her husband of four years, Joe Savola, make their home in Boise, a place Armstrong says gives her balance. “I’ve been all over the world and Boise is where I’ll always want to raise my family,” Armstrong says. “The people are so down to earth and always stop to say hi. When I go out of state and try to say hello to people, they look at me like, who are you and are you crazy? “I like the balance here. If I left Boise, my balance would disappear.”
Armstrong likes that she can get on her bike and be in prime training terrain within 10 minutes. “The roads around Boise are beautiful,” she says, noting that her favorite training ride is up Bogus Basin Road where she does intervals. Armstrong used Bogus to prepare for the 2008 Olympics because its climb mimicked the rise on the Beijing Olympic course. Following her gold medal win, an eight-mile stretch of the road was renamed the Kristin Armstrong Bikeway.
She and Savola also own a condo in the Sun Valley area where they immerse themselves in summer biking, winter Nordic skiing and eating out at restaurants. ”I don’t think I’ve cooked in the condo once in five years,” she laughs, noting that she loves the local eateries so much that it’s hard to decide where to go. “Sometimes I catch myself saying, ‘Oh man, it’s so busy here this weekend—there’s so many people from out of town,’ like I’m a local,” she says.
Armstrong—who is not related to cyclist Lance Armstrong—started out as a triathlete and joined the Olympic Training Center in 1999. “When I came home I started developing hip issues and was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and was told not to run at that level anymore,” she says. “I thought maybe I should just step back into a normal job and think about the real world. But I joined a Boise cycling team that entered a huge international race. I took all my vacation days to compete, and by the end of the week, I had three contract offers. That’s how I started my career.”
Armstrong earned her Olympic gold in the time trial, which she said is her best event. “It’s a point-to-point race against the clock. They call it the ‘Race for Truth,’ and there are no variables or tactics. It’s just you against the clock,” she explains.
In 2009, Armstrong retired briefly to have Lucas, and then enjoyed a strong comeback just over a year later. Then came trouble—in 2011 she got banged up in a race crash, struggled with a virus and placed third at the National Championships time trial. “That was a bad day,” she says somberly about the Nationals. “It was nine months after having Lucas. My whole family had put so much into me coming back, and I remember thinking, ‘what have I done?’ The papers quoted my husband as saying maybe it would be my last race. I had to really turn myself around.”
Determined to make the Olympic team again, Armstrong came out swinging in 2012. “I’m hungry, I’m ready,” she says. She still had the 2012 Exergy Tour in Idaho, one of the final opportunities to earn international ranking points to qualify for the London Olympics. “I’ll be racing against the best in the world in my hometown,” she said last spring prior to the race. “I can’t wait.”
Armstrong mused about writing a book and what its conclusion might be. “It’s like the books you read and get to choose the ending,” she says. “Right now my last chapter is, ‘Olympic team? No Olympic team? Struggles or success?’ I don’t even have a closure. It’s so exciting. I’m still reading my book.” -Patti Murphy
[Editor’s Note: Kristin will be defending her gold medal in women’s time trials at this summer’s Olympics.]