Theresa Cliff-Ryan, a U.S. rider and teammate of injured racer Kristin Armstrong, won the first stage of the Exergy Tour on Friday, a 76.7-mile road race through southwestern Idaho in a steady rain. Armstrong, who crashed in the race's prologue time trial on Thursday and broke her collarbone, was at the finish - just hours after undergoing surgery - to cheer her teammates on. German champ Ina Yoko Teutenberg came in second, and Australian Rochelle Gilmore third; based on combined times from the two days of racing, Teutenberg took the overall lead for the tour. As the sky turned from gray to blue, six riders crashed near the final turn in Nampa, including world champion Giorgia Bronzini of Italy. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller. The professional women's cycling race continues through Monday.
Cliff-Ryan wins Exergy Tour first stage
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press
NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — Theresa Cliff-Ryan won the first stage of the Exergy Tour on Friday, beating out German Ina Yoko Teutenberg in a sprint after 102 riders wound their way through the countryside near southern Idaho's Snake River.
Cliff-Ryan finished the rainy 76.7-mile stage in 3 hours, 16 minutes.
Australian Rochelle Gilmore was third.
Teutenberg, a German Olympian from 2000 hoping to compete in the London Games this summer, took the five-day race's overall lead.
Cliff-Ryan rides for the Exergy 2012 team and is a teammate of U.S. gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, the Boise-based rider who crashed in Thursday evening's prologue and broke her left collarbone. Armstrong had surgery Friday but arrived in Nampa in time to see Cliff-Ryan cross the finish line in the lead, her arms raised.
"I just wanted to give her a big hug, but I knew I had to be careful," Cliff-Ryan said, referring to Armstrong.
The race continues Saturday in Kuna with a 10.4-mile time trial, which at the start of the Exergy Tour was billed as a showcase matchup between Armstrong, the gold medalist from Beijing, and her two biggest rivals for the U.S. time trial team in London, Amber Neben and Evelyn Stevens. Armstrong's injury scuttled that.
But Armstrong told reporters she's still counting on being on the U.S. Olympic team when USA Cycling names London-bound riders on June 15. She said she'll be riding a stationary training bicycle this weekend.
"My chances are not gone," Armstrong said. "I have nine weeks until the Olympics. I'm going to come back stronger than ever. This injury is not going to keep me from going to London."
Steve Johnson, president of USA Cycling, declined to speculate on how Armstrong's exit — and subsequent inability to compete head-to-head against Neben and Stevens — would figure into the organization's selection of riders in three weeks.
"Selection to the games is never simple," Johnson said. "I would expect the committee to nominate those athletes they believe to be best prepared for a medal-winning performance in July."
Armstrong has a big believer in her corner: Connie Carpenter, winner of the 1984 women's road cycling gold medal at the Los Angeles Games.
Carpenter said Armstrong's injury was a setback that complicates the Olympic calculus, but it's not insurmountable.
Carpenter doubts that Armstrong's absence from Saturday's time trial in Idaho will have much impact on the team selection. For one thing, the 18-mile race in London is nearly twice as long as Saturday's event.
"It's not Olympic distance," Carpenter said, adding that Thursday's accident will likely bolster Armstrong's resolve to repeat her 2008 Olympic performance. "If anything, it will motivate her. It will only make her stronger."
Though the United States will only field two female competitors for the time trials in London, it's hoping to be among the world's top-five teams that get to nominate four riders for the longer road race. There's strength in numbers, a big advantage in strategy against national teams allowed only two or three riders.
On April 22, the most-recent rankings release by the International Cycling Union, the U.S. women were ranked fourth, behind the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.
The international standings aren't likely to change much, said USA Cycling spokeswoman Andrea Smith, even with Armstrong's exit from the Exergy Tour keeping her from helping to add to totals.
"Our points are likely even a little stronger than they looked" on April 22, Smith said, citing strong American performances in races since then.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.