Culture

Day in the life: Amber Neben

10 questions with two-time world champion time trialist Amber Neben, from her home in southern California.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought professional cycling to a halt. In the coming weeks we will be reaching out to pro riders and other personalities from the sport to understand how their lives are continuing amidst the shutdown.

Amber Neben claims that she’s better off riding in a torrential downpour or snowstorm than she is on an indoor trainer, but she’s likely to give participants in her Three Summit Challenge a run for their money this weekend. The two-time world champion has organized the virtual challenge as a benefit for No Kid Hungry, and she hopes that riders of all backgrounds and abilities will join her for the three days of virtual climbing. Like many cyclists, Neben wanted to do something helpful during this time of uncertainty, and her offering coincides with many people’s lockdown activity of choice: virtual training.

“Here’s an opportunity for people to do both,” Neben says. “Be motivated and ride and also give back.” 

Location: Lake Forest, CA

What are the current regulations for where you live about going outside?
We’re under the Stay at Home order, so only essential activities are allowed. We’re free to go outside and walk and ride bikes. They haven’t mandated wearing masks, but they say it’s a good idea to wear masks when you’re going to the store.

Where I am, it was one of the first places to send students home from college. UC Irvine, Concordia University — they all shut down in the middle of March, and I think it’s helped flatten the curve in southern California. 

day in the life
Neben and her husband on an easy walk to the store.

What races were you planning to do that have been canceled or postponed?
I was gonna race Redlands, and maybe Tour of the Gila, Winston-Salem, a lot of the American stuff. 

What are you doing today?
It’s a recovery day, so a lot of miscellaneous things. I started with my morning devotion and prayer time. Then had a phone call with a guy on the east coast who’s organizing races. I talked to my coach. Now, I’m working on the Three Summit Challenge, getting some emails written, and setting up a practice group ride for today. Mondays and Friday’s I have a junior high boy that I ride virtually with and “coach.” 

With everyone in lockdown mode, it’s almost been easier to ride with him because we’re not trying to ride in person. I’m trying to help him stay in shape, he’s a great baseball player, but he loves biking. 

Since today isn’t a workout day, can you describe what workouts you have been doing?
In the midst of the unknown and uncertainty, I still have to move as if things are gonna happen. Until the Olympics were canceled, I had to be planning and preparing for a peak at the Olympics. Until then, none of that had changed. I had done a lot of long winter and spring work, I’m transitioning into more intensity now. Not try to get to super fit, but working on depth and intensity.

day in the life
Recovery rolling.

Speaking of the Olympics being postponed, how are you dealing with that? I imagine it caught you off guard.
It did. You find out the news, so then it’s ‘now what?’ And the ‘now what’ was nobody knows. So you have to step back and pause.

With all of my years of experience as an athlete, I know that I have to be flexible and adapt. It’s like crashing in a stage race when you’re wearing the yellow jersey. Don’t panic, don’t freak out, get back on the bike. In that sense, it’s like, I’m not gonna panic. I’m prepared to be flexible and adapt. Mentally, I’m very resilient. There’s always opportunity in difficulty. What can I find in this moment to talk advantage of? I’m always looking for a way to respond. It’s probably the mindset that’s gotten me as far as I’ve gotten.

From a heart sense, it was a big blow. But it’s one of those things where it’s not an either-or [situation]. I’m not crushed or super excited. It’s like, ‘wow, this is a both.’ You just took a body blow or whatever you wanna call it, but at the very same time, I can respond, see through it, keep pressing forward and have that resiliency. Being excellent, being great at something, you have to be able to be in that ‘both’ space.

What is your motivation for training right now?
For me, in the last phase of my career, I’ve been so focused on worlds and the Olympics. Yes, the Olympics have been priority number one, but number two has been worlds. I haven’t lost sight of that. In moving forward and training and working right now, the world championships are still there. It’s hard to explain being world champion — it’s something you constantly chase. As we shift modes for 2020, I still see that. I would hope that a good ride there would potentially impact the Olympics in 2021.

day in the life
Neben doing a little VO2 work outside.

What indoor gear are you using?
Saris H3 trainer. When I ride indoors, it’s either RGT or Zwift

How are you communicating with friends and family?
Zoom is probably the biggest thing, and all the same methods as before — text, phone, Skype. 

It’s funny, spending so much of my life being a professional athlete — my world is already pretty quiet. When you’re so focused on big goals, there’s not a lot of going out and doing things. You already doing a lot of communicating virtually.

day in the life
Neben catching up on emails, coaching, and putting the finishing touches on her Three Summit Challenge.

Have you received any helpful advice?
Just being reminded that there’s opportunity here. You can see it as an opportunity or an obstacle. 

You can think about this as wine vs whine. I could whine about this, or I could make wine. That idea of being crushed and pressed, you can complain about it or see the beauty in it.

We could make kindness more contagious than COVID right now. We can love our neighbors more than ever. Walls have come down. All of a sudden what’s important is relationships and people. For me, as a Christian, it’s an opportunity. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, there’s so much unknown and so much uncertainty but I do trust that God has a plan.

When do you think you’ll race again?
I don’t know. I’m hopeful that we’re able to race our national championships, that could be the one race we pull off. In California, our governor is saying there won’t be sports with fans for a long time. Will that trickle down to cycling? I don’t know, but I have to prepare to be ready to race.