The first stage of the Exergy Tour kicked off under mostly sunny skies, with a large and enthusiastic crowd of spectators in downtown Boise to see the 103 elite women cyclists from around the world compete. But it ended in a heartbreaker when local favorite Kristin Armstrong, the 2008 gold medalist in the time trial and the last rider of the day, crashed midway through the course and broke her collarbone. Amazingly, Armstrong got back on her bike after her crash by the Boise Depot and finished the course, coming in 13th, showing she was on pace to have won with a blisteringly fast time. But she's now out for the rest of the tour, which continues today with a 77-mile road race starting from the Nampa Rec Center.
Final results for the day showed top honors went to Tara Whitten of Canada, one of the Team TIBCO to the Top riders whose bike was stolen a day before the race, then recovered by Boise Police on the BSU campus and returned in time; she completed the course in 4 minutes 9 seconds. Two other Canadians rounded out the top three: Gillian Carleton was second, and crowd favorite Clara Hughes, a Canadian cyclist and speed skater who's won multiple Olympic medals in both sports, came in third.
Evelyn Stevens, a U.S. rider and former investment banker who's one of Armstrong's rivals for a spot on the time trials team at the London Olympics this summer, placed fifth; and Amber Neben, the other rival, a former Olympian and the world time trial champion from 2008, placed 10th.
Armstrong is scheduled to undergo surgery this morning and still hopes to qualify for the Olympics, though she's out for the Exergy Tour; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Whitten wins stage, American Armstrong falls
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Tara Whitten led a Canadian sweep of the first three spots in the Exergy Tour prologue Thursday after American gold medalist Kristin Armstrong fell and likely broke her left collarbone during the two-mile stage.
Armstrong, who lives in Boise and was the last of 103 riders to start, fell hard at the turnaround, putting her London Olympic hopes in doubt.
Whitten, an experienced track rider, finished in 4 minutes, 9 seconds.
She finished just ahead of Gillian Carleton. Clara Hughes was third.
Armstrong finished 8 seconds behind Whitten in 13th place.
The American was crying and holding her left shoulder after she climbed off her bicycle. Her husband, Joe Savola, said she would have surgery Friday and would abandon the Exergy Tour, but hasn't ruled out competing in London if she's chosen for the team.
USA Cycling will make its selections June 15.
"She's the fastest time-trial rider in the world," Savola said. "She would have broken 4 minutes. She was flying, she was taking a chance."
After the race, Whitten told The Associated Press that sharp turns on the course forced her to slow at several sections, including the turnaround.
"There were some technical sections where I thought I lost a little time," she said.
Whitten races for Team TIBCO, a California-based team that had $120,000 worth of bikes and equipment stolen from the team trailer a day before the race. All of the bikes were recovered.
"It was definitely not a good feeling (Wednesday) morning when we came down to breakfast," said Whitten, whose road bike was among those taken. She was all smiles after winning the stage just a day later.
Following the race, Whitten, Carleton and Hughes were shocked and saddened to learn at a news conference the extent of Armstrong's injuries.
Hughes said she fell on the same turn as Armstrong during the warm-up for the race. She said she slowed for the turnaround during the race, but only a little.
"My easy is probably on par with other people's hard, so I don't think I lost any time," Hughes said.
Armstrong was competing for a spot on the time trial team at the London Olympics with two other U.S. riders, Evelyn Stevens, of Boulder, Colo., and Amber Neben, of Lake Forest, Calif.
Stevens finished fifth Thursday, while Neben was eighth.
Steve Johnson, chief executive officer of USA Cycling, suspected the worst after watching Armstrong fall to the pavement near the Boise depot, the location of her wedding to Savola in 2007.
"It is amazing that she was able to get back on her bike and finish only 8 seconds off the pace," he said in an e-mail.
The Exergy Tour continues Friday, with a 76.7-mile ride through Idaho wine country near the Snake River.
The five-day event concludes Monday.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.