Brian Murphy: Kristin Armstrong, Boise Twilight Criterium are summer staples

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comJuly 13, 2014 

— It's been nearly two years since Kristin Armstrong stood atop the podium in London with son Lucas in her arms and a second gold medal draped around her neck.

And not much has changed.

Kids still line up to collect her autograph. Her competitive juices still flow.

Saturday's Twilight Criterium served as another reminder of both phenomenons for Armstrong, who may or may not be retired from professional cycling.

More than 300 kids signed up to ride with Armstrong before the Criterium's main events. She signed autographs for 90 minutes before the ride and an hour after it. Her popularity, especially with young girls, is not waning.

"Every year I think, 'Gosh, are they going to get tired of this?' But people have poster collections. I have signed their helmet multiple times in a row," she said. "So it's really become this really neat thing to come to."

Like collecting Armstrong's signature for some, the Criterium - which began in 1987 - is a rite of Boise's summer.

You can measure Downtown's progress by the event, which takes place in the shadow of the new Eighth & Main building. Cyclists ride toward the cranes looking over the in-progress JUMP project. They ride by patrons on patios of restaurants and food trucks and beer gardens.

On a day so hot that some cyclists' tires popped and in a summer of discontent over cycling lanes, Boiseans turned out in big numbers once again to watch the races.

Armstrong, as close to a cycling ombudsman as we have, said the controversy over Downtown's short-lived bike lanes could have been solved with better communication.

And perhaps some time.

"I felt chaos myself," she said, about the near-overnight implementation, swift commenting period and quick removal of the lanes.

"I generally think both cyclists and motorists want to have equal respect for one another on the road. No one is intentionally wanting to go out and harm the other."

Armstrong is encouraged by the proliferation of bike lanes in other parts of the city, particularly in new developments where adding space for cyclists is a bit easier than creating space in an already congested area.

"I do feel like there is some momentum there," she said.

Just as there may be some momentum for (another) Armstrong comeback. She and husband Joe Savola refused to rule out a ride at the 2016 Olympics.

After riding with the kids, the ultra-competitive Armstrong wondered why she wasn't in Saturday night's main event. Savola told her there was time to enter. But she declined, concerned about a possible crash.

The excitement, the joy of competition remains for Armstrong, who turns 41 next month.

But her health might not allow for a run at a fourth Olympic appearance. Armstrong has undergone three hip surgeries since September, one on her left hip and two on her right. The latest surgery was 15 weeks ago, and she is still feeling pain.

"One minute you think (2016) is a good idea. The next minute you're saying, 'Wait a minute. I've been there.' I just have such competitive blood," she said.

"First and foremost, I want to get my hip healthy first. In order to become a world-class athlete, you have to have everything healthy and everything going really well. If you're off at all and if there's pain or anything, you can't go there. I have to get my hip back in order."

Armstrong, who won time trial gold in 2008 and 2012, will also have to decide if she can win again. She won't return, won't drag herself and her family through a grueling two-year process, just to participate.

The decision must be made this fall, she said.

No matter what she decides, Armstrong will be back here next summer.

Her youngest fans wanting an autograph and to ride with her. Her competitive spirit ready to jump in the race.

It's a rite of summer - for us and for Armstrong.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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