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Photo: Casey B. Gibson cbgphoto.com

Ashton Lambie embraces gravel as his 2020 Olympic plans fall short

Ashton Lambie and the U.S. men's track team failed to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Now, the 29-year-old Lambie is planning a season of gravel racing, adventure riding, and another shot at the Individual Pursuit world record.

What does Ashton Lambie do in the wake of missing out on a lifetime dream of an Olympic medal?

Fill the Olympic void with a season packed with gravel racing, bike-packing adventures, and another attempt at the individual pursuit world record — that’s what.

Lambie, 29, has devoted the past three years of his life to qualifying with the U.S. track team for the 2020 Olympics in the team pursuit. That dream came crashing to a halt last month at the UCI track World Cup in Glasgow. The American team failed to qualify through the first round, leaving nearest rivals Switzerland to amass a points total they would be unable to better during their limited race schedule for the year.

“It’s hard to feel good about the Olympic situation,” Lambie told VeloNews. “You dedicate every day of your life for three years to this goal and then it doesn’t materialize. I’m not going to pretend it’s a great situation.”

Far from one to sit feeling sorry for himself, Lambie is instead embracing the prospect of a 2020 unburdened by the schedules, timetables, and equipment of the U.S. Olympic program. Having spent the last three years following someone else’s rules, Lambie is again in charge.

“The Olympics thing is done, what happened happened, I learned and grew through that,” he said on a call the day before flying to Brisbane to race the track World Cup with his team, HUUB-Wattbike.

“Now I’m not putting all my focus on the Games there is this fresh and exciting perspective on this uncertainty of what I’m going to do next. Now I get to spend more time working with a lot of sponsors I find exciting and that are doing awesome things, and they’re excited about my plans.”

The new start for 2020 will see the Nebraskan stepping away from a life ruled by national team demands, and back to his roots in independent, experimental challenges and races.

Lambie’s elite career is short and sharp.

Having honed his engine through his early 20s riding randonneurs and occasional road races, he only began training and racing with intent in 2014. He first came to the world’s attention in 2015 with his record-breaking crossing of Kansas, and the year after that, a season of dominating the gravel scene. In that year, he ruled the gravel fondo circuit, placed second in the gravel worlds, and took sixth at Dirty Kanza 200.

His first forays into track racing came in 2016, on the grassy surface of the velodrome in Lawrence, Kansas. From there, he transitioned onto the smooth boards of a traditional track, and by 2017, had won the pursuit national championship and become a part of the U.S. national track program.

Lambie has become a key member of the U.S. men’s track program. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

During his time in the national setup, he set the world record for individual pursuit with a time of 4:07:251 in 2018, and went nearly one second faster a year later at the Pan-American Championships. In the absence of the individual pursuit from the Olympic schedule, Lambie became a key cog of the U.S. team pursuit squad, as it worked to qualify for Tokyo.

Now, with the Olympic dream over and years devoted to the track behind him, Lambie plans to return to the rough stuff in 2020.

“I really want to focus on gravel next year, maybe some ultra-distance bike packing races like Transcontinental Race, maybe do some more state records and maybe even the cross-country record,” he said.

“It’s still all to be decided, but I’ve always had this good ability to come up with hair-brained ideas that have some kind of method behind them, like cross-state Kansas. 2020 will let me get back to that. Next year will be exciting and man, I’m super stoked.”

Lambie’s enthusiasm for a return to the burgeoning adventure racing world is partly rooted in its undefined and freeform nature.

“The recent rise of gravel is awesome,” he said. “The growing pains of this new discipline, and being unregulated and that people are trying new formats and styles of races, everyone’s learning and figuring things out together.

“I love there’s change coming from the bottom up rather than the top down.”

Ashton Lambie
Lambie’s love of gravel racing saw him riding the Land Run 100 in March. Photo: Jason Ebberts / TBL Photography

The freedom to experiment and explore new avenues is a stark contrast to his previous three years in the US track program, where equipment choices and race schedules were out of his hands. The flexibility and dynamism of the gravel scene is also seen in Lambie’s track team, HUUB-Wattbike.

HUUB-Wattbike is an independent British outfit renowned for its exacting standards of equipment testing and selection, and pursuit of innovation to gain every watt possible. The firepower in the team and meticulously selected equipment they race with means that they are able to better national teams on a regular basis. Lambie was part of the squad’s team pursuit team that won gold at the 2018 London World Cup.

Lambie and the HUUB-Wattbike team are currently in the process of organizing a track event in Bolivia for 2020, using the same venue as where Lambie set his pursuit world record in 2018. As part of the event, Lambie will attempt to take the individual pursuit world record back from Filippo Ganna, who set a new world-best mark of 4:02.647 in Minsk last month.

“Re-taking the record is on the table for 2020 for sure, either at the world championships or the event in Bolivia,” he said. “I think there’s room for one of the top-five pursuiters right now to go sub-four minutes, and that’s so exciting.”

From world record attempts in a 4-minute race to a shot at the week-plus challenge of the Transcontinental Race, Lambie can’t wait to just ride his bike where, when, and how he wants.

“I’m just stoked to get back at it in 2020 and see what happens,” he said. “I’m excited.”

It may not be a shot at Olympic gold, but Lambie’s 2020 schedule is worthy of a medal in itself.