Culture

Amber Neben on the hardest races in women’s cycling

The two-time ITT world champion has raced the biggest events in women's pro cycling. Now 45, Neben is hoping for one more return to the Olympic Games.

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The Giro Rosa is currently women’s cycling’s biggest race, but what were the biggest races in the early part of your career?

When I first started, the Giro wasn’t as big of a deal as it is now. It was a full seven-day race, but it was mostly flat and it didn’t have much climbing in it. I did the HP Women’s Challenge for its last two years and the Tour de l’Aude and Thüringen-Rundfahrt. The La Route de France was two weeks long back then with a ton of climbing. All of those races were at least 10 stages. The Giro got hard in 2008 when they brought back a ton of climbing. And I was with Mara [Abbott] when she won her first Giro in 2010. Honestly, my most recent Giro memories involved trauma centers.

What are those memories?

In 2009 I won the ITT, which was cool because I was wearing the rainbow jersey, and I got to wear pink in the lead. We came around a corner and somebody on the side of me crashed and slid under my bike, and it launched me over the bars like Superman, and I came skidding to a halt on the guardrail. I broke my shoulder and thought I ripped my finger off. Then, in 2010 I was riding in a support role for Mara and Amanda Miller and I were going down this super steep descent, and I just remember seeing bodies and bikes flying in the air and thinking, “Wow, I have nowhere to go, I can’t bunny hop this.” The next thing I know I woke up on the ground and my fork had been sawed in half. Thankfully all I did was shatter my collarbone.

What was the hardest race?

The women’s Tour de France, we would do seven days of racing, then a rest day, then seven more days of racing. The stages were 150 kilometers long, so you’re racing 100 miles a day and doing really epic stages. One year we did the most epic day. It was 40 degrees and we climbed the Col de la Madeleine and the Glandon and then finished on the Vaujany.

What was your favorite race from the early part of your career?

Tour de l’Aude was such a cool race. There were no predictable days. There was wind and weather and big climbs, and it really had something for everyone. I raced it four times and won it twice, and my teammate Susanne Ljungskog won it another time. I remember one year I won it by less than 1 second over Trixi [Worrack] and it came down to the last stage, and we climbed one of those Tour de France HC climbs, descended, and climbed back up. It was epic.

What does your 2020 season look like?

I’m in full prep mode for the Olympics. I won’t know until the selection process ends in June if I made the team. I’ve been through this process multiple times, and I feel that, based on the way the qualification criteria is written, I have a good shot. I’ve won the last three US Pro TT titles, I’ve won a world championships and I was 4th last year. I’m better off preparing to peak at the Olympics than to chase things in the spring.

Get to know Amber

First Bike? Diamondback Ascent. I bought it at a shop to ride on campus and exercise on it.

Favorite Race? Tour de l’Aude

Favorite Ride? The 7 Sisters in Laguna Beach, California