Kristin Armstrong races all over the world, against the best her sport offers.
There are different winners in different races for different reasons, but the elite are separated by one thing.
That one day.
For Armstrong, that day came on Aug. 13, 2008, at the Beijing Olympics. She dominated the competition in the women's cycling road time trial to win the gold medal and stake her title as the world's best on a day when it mattered most.
"That's the thing," said Armstrong, who is shooting for a fourth consecutive Nature Valley Grand Prix title in Minnesota this week. "There are a lot of pieces to the Olympic Games that are pretty special. Then you get to the competition, and it's world class, but it's the same people you are competing against all year. You just have to have 'that one day.'"
The Olympics seems a faraway event with incomparable athletes to many, and Armstrong was no exception ... until she became an Olympian.
"When I was growing up, I would watch the Olympics, and you start to think, 'Is it really human? Don't you have to be superhuman to do this Olympic thing?' The one thing I thought when I was walking out of the Olympic Center [in Beijing] is that you'd look at someone and say, you know what? If you saw them walking down the street, you would never think they're an athlete. They're just normal people, doing normal things.
"I didn't get to stay for the closing ceremonies. I was back home, watching it on TV. It was like watching a Hollywood production, and I was like 'No way, I was there!'
"That's why the message I always give to kids and other people is, no matter how impossible it looks, set your goals high, and you can accomplish anything. We're all just normal people."
Armstrong, 35, is in her last year of competitive cycling. She's retiring in Boise, Idaho, to start a family with husband Joe Savola following September's World Championships in Poland.
At last year's Nature Valley, Armstrong was eagerly awaiting the Olympics, where her childhood dreams finally came true. She was an outstanding triathlete until 2001, when a diagnosis of osteoarthritis in her hips meant no more distance running. She switched to cycling full-time, became a three-time national champion, and was eighth in the road race at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
This year, Armstrong won a World Cup race in Switzerland on May 10, beating fellow Olympic gold medalist Marianne Vos in a photo-finish. She was fourth in the nine-stage Tour de l'Aude (France) from May 15-24, and will head to Italy to race following the Nature Valley event.
But the post-Olympic year hasn't been stress-free.
"I have to say that my life has completely changed," Armstrong said. "I used to wake up and all I had to worry about was the bike and my equipment. Now, I feel like I'm juggling my athletic career with a fulltime job, because of the different endorsements and the speaking opportunities when I'm not on the road racing my bike.
"It's a change that actually brought more balance to my life. But the first three months was really hard on me. There was a point where I'd say 'I just can't talk to anybody! I just want to have my own life!' But now I can take a deep breath. It's just my life. I'm a lot more efficient. It's not just about training and racing. I have a lot of other things going on as well."
Armstrong (to answer the question she faces the most: no, she's not related to Lance) is welcoming the income from endorsement opportunities now in her last competitive year. Her final goal is a world championship in September, but this week's event will have a special meaning to her.
"Nature Valley is really a significant race on my calendar because it's my last race in America," she said. "I'm fortunate that my team [Cervélo Test Team] is letting me come. I'll be on my own, but it's a well-run race, and the competition is the highest you can get in America."