Q&A: Ashton Lambie on balancing track and gravel, grass track racing
Ashton Lambie is a man of many talents. He straddles two distinct cycling worlds, as both a world-class track cyclist and a top-notch gravel racer. And then there’s the trademark mustache.
Lambie made headlines late last year when he set a new world record in the 4-kilometer time trial (4:07.25), besting the existing record of Jack Bobridge by over three seconds. Prior to joining USA Cycling’s national track program in 2017, Lambie competed in randonneur races and long-distance gravel events, such as Dirty Kanza 200 and Trans-Iowa. Now, he is constantly jumping back and forth between the two disciplines.
We caught up with Lambie on the eve of Land Run 100 to discuss the balancing act he must strike between track and gravel racing, how one form of racing informs the other, and why his future may involve a lot of grass-mowing.
VeloNews: How do you balance all of the international track racing you do with the gravel racing you want to do?
Ashton Lambie: I’ve been back from Poland for a little over a week, just got back from track worlds and then, you know, got to do Land Run. The only other race I’m for sure signed up for is Dirty Kanza, where I’m doing the 100-miler. Hopefully, I’ll do Gravel Worlds, but we might have Pan Ams [track championships]. But it’s hard. This season on the track is leading up to an Olympic block for us, so it’s going to be a really long season and really focused on track. But the nice thing with [my hometown of] Lincoln is that there are enough gravel races that are within an hour drive and it’s not necessarily a huge prep to go do one of those races. So I have them all in the calendar and hopefully, I’ll be able to do them.
VN: Do you have a preference, or is the fact that you get to do both of them your preference?
AL: Absolutely, yes. [laughs] If I had a much longer off-season, I’d probably get a little bored. And it is nice to be able to balance it. For some people, maybe Land Run is probably the same level of importance as worlds is for me. But for me, it’s like a totally different vibe and it’s awesome. It’s super fun.
VN: Do you feel like you have some level of celebrity now in this space?
AL: A little bit, yeah. It’s kind of weird. I’m not super used to it because, for me, everyone is on that level at track. I go to a World Cup or something and I’m like, “Oh my God, it’s that person.” I walk in two different worlds, in a way. And then I come here and people are like, “Oh my God, it’s Ashton.” And I’m like, “Come on man, it’s not that big a deal.” And they’re like, “It’s a huge deal!” I’m like, “Oh, it’s not that big of a deal.” They’re like, “You just got back from the world championships. I can’t even imagine that.” And I’m like, “Well, okay, I get that.” So yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard to keep that in perspective when I’m also the one doing it. But one sort of informs the other in a way.
VN: I have read things about you that give the impression that you like where you’re from, you like doing things that are local, you aren’t necessarily striving to go pro as a roadie or as anything else. You like what you do right now.
AL: Yeah. Absolutely. I can make ends meet doing what I’m doing full-time. I work at a bike shop two days a week because I like it. Obviously, working eight hours a week at a bike shop, I’m not in it for the money, but it’s fun. I don’t really have a huge desire to go join a pro road team. I think it would just kind of take away from the other stuff that I get to do, which I love. It’s awesome. And I do like Nebraska. I think it’s really underrated. I was born there. I can go ride primo gravel outside my front door every day. It’s awesome. I love it. It’s super cool.
VN: What have you learned from these races like Dirty Kanza and Gravel Worlds that informs the other things that you do or that informs who you are as an athlete?
AL: I think anytime you have to dig super-deep, and kind of go down and just start really digging and putting yourself in a hole, whether that’s over 24 hours or it’s over four minutes, getting comfortable with that space is pretty interesting.
VN: Has it helped with technique at all? You’ve got a lot of experience on every surface known at this point.
AL: Not mountain biking. I’m a shit mountain biker. My wife loves to joke that I can’t turn my handlebars past 10 degrees. [laughs] But there’s not a ton of technique in gravel racing. But what it does have is a lot of that low cadence work that helps. Just being able to kind of grind through some of that stuff. That definitely helps on the track because we do a lot of strength endurance work, sitting at 50 to 60RPM. And other guys, especially young guys, they’ll be like blowing out their knees at 60RPM and I’m like, “Oh, this feels great. This is gravel.” So that helps. That carries over really well.
VN: Are you considering going to SBT GRVL because of the payout? Does the prize purse influence anything for you?
AL: It was a consideration. The big thing is, I don’t even know if I’ll be able to do those dates. Mostly I would want to do Gravel Worlds because I’m from Lincoln and I hate driving. I just absolutely cannot be f—ked to drive eight hours for a race when there’s one, like, eight miles from my house. I live in the heartland of gravel racing and it’s awesome. I have a hard time driving to gravel races, period, because it’s like, “Okay, yeah, I can go do this 100-mile gravel race. But it’s raining today and it’s supposed to be really nice tomorrow and I can just go ride a hundred miles tomorrow. Is it really worth driving an hour to a gravel race?” But that’s mainly why I didn’t want to go to Steamboat. It’s like, I could wake up and go do Gravel Worlds, or I could make a whole trip out of it and go do Steamboat and maybe get some cash.
VN: You did a short stint racing on a grass track in Kansas. What was that like?
AL: It’s wild. It is a USAC-sanctioned track. We have state championships there every year and you have to have a license to race.
VN: What is the grass like? Is it like a putting green?
AL: No, it is like a pasture and someone with a mower and a piece of string carved out this track. It’s wild. You’re going around it and you’re just like, wheeeeeew, I mean it’s so bumpy. There’s zero degrees of banking. It’s more equivalent to a running track. So the other plan is that we have enough land that we’re hoping to build one in our yard in Nebraska … me, personally, with a mower and a piece of string. It doesn’t take much! Honestly, it doesn’t take that big of a yard either.