BERLIN (VN) — Since there won’t be an Olympic Games for Ashton Lambie this summer, a silver medal in the men’s individual pursuit at the 2020 UCI Track World Championships on Friday was worth its weight in gold.
The 29-year-old put in a Herculean effort in the 4km race, but succumbed to Italy’s Filippo Ganna in the gold-medal round. Ganna set a new world record in qualifying, and rode away from Lambie in the final kilometer.
Lambie, who saw his Olympic dreams dissolve earlier this winter when the U.S. failed to qualify in the men’s team pursuit, transformed the Berlin track worlds into his personal Olympic final.
“There are a lot of feelings about not going to Tokyo,” he told VeloNews. “It’s even more apparent on this trip. A lot of people here are looking ahead. And I’m like, yeah, I’m just here for this and I’m done.”
Lambie, 29, wanted to go out with a bang.
The race Friday served as part of a closing chapter in his adventure on the track that began three years ago. As one of the pioneering riders on the gravel riding scene, Lambie took up the challenge of racing on the track. The ultimate goal was fulfilling any cyclist’s dream of racing the Olympics.
Because his strongest discipline, the individual pursuit, is no longer an Olympic event, Lambie joined the American effort to qualify for the men’s team pursuit.
The odds were stacked against them, especially with such traditional powerhouses as Great Britain and Australia long-dominating the event. The team’s journey ended earlier this season when they failed to score enough Olympic qualifying points at the World Cup series.
With that disappointment, Lambie decided to turn the Berlin worlds into his personal Olympic challenge.
After twice setting the world record in individual pursuit—once in 2018 (4:07.251) and again in 2019 (4:06.407)—Lambie was a medal-favorite for Berlin. On Friday, he ran straight into Ganna, who bettered his own mark to set a new world record in qualifying in 4 minutes, 1.934 seconds, coming ever closer to breaking the mythical four-minute barrier. Ganna had set the record for the IP previously, in November of 2019, with a time of 4:02.647.
In the gold-medal round, Lambie put Ganna under pressure in the first half of the race, staying close to the 23-year-old Italian, all the way through 2,750m gone. Ganna then turned on the turbos and powered away in the closing laps, leaving Lambie to celebrate his first career worlds medal with silver. It was a fitting end to a track journey that began on the gravel roads of Kansas.
“This beat expectations,” Lambie said. “You run your schedule, and I felt like I was on it. At six laps to go, I was three-tenths down, and I tried to gun it, but there was no gas left.”
After missing out on fulfilling his Olympic dream, Lambie will return to his gravel roots this summer. He’ll have a full racing schedule on gravel, including a return to Dirty Kanza and the other major races on the booming gravel calendar.
For Lambie, Friday was all about giving his all and delivering a medal performance on the track.
“It’s just incredible to do this at the world champs.” he said. “It’s always tough to lose a final, but to go up against one of the greatest pursuiters ever, and being in the fight, it feels good.”
But first comes some unsettled business on the boards. He’ll head to Bolivia in April to make one final stab at the world record in both the men’s individual pursuit and team pursuit. He’ll also target the U.S. hour record on the track—at 8,392 feet elevation—where he set his IP record in 2019.
That could be Lambie’s parting shot to the track. He will put tracking racing on hold, at least for 2021, and return to full-time gravel racing. With the UCI rolling out a major overhaul of track racing for 2021, the budding professional teams also face an uncertain future. Lambie doesn’t discount another run at the Olympics in 2024, but that’s a long way down the road.
For Lambie, Friday’s ride was putting a fitting end on his track-racing chapter that brought to the height of the international elite.
“I’m here fighting against Ganna, and guys on the WorldTour, and I’m just some guy from Nebraska, it’s nuts,” he said. “It’s been super fun. I don’t do it for the story. I did it just try to see how far I can go.”