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Agony to ecstasy: A conversation with Amber Neben

Amber Neben’s 2008 season could adequately be labeled an emotional roller coaster, full of ups and downs. After months of deliberation by USA Cycling, Neben was named to the squad for the Beijing Olympics (up). Despite her talents in time trialing, she was named to the road race team and left off the Olympic time-trial squad (down). During the Olympic road race Neben made the selection on the final climb (up), only to watch in horror as her chain shifted off of her chain ring, and the lead group sped away (down).

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From dropping her chain in the Olympic road race to winning the worlds title, Amber Neben had a whirlwind 2008

By Fred Dreier

Neben in Redlands on Thursday.

Neben in Redlands on Thursday.

Photo: Don Karle

Amber Neben’s 2008 season could adequately be labeled an emotional roller coaster, full of ups and downs. After months of deliberation by USA Cycling, Neben was named to the squad for the Beijing Olympics (up). Despite her talents in time trialing, she was named to the road race team and left off the Olympic time-trial squad (down). During the Olympic road race Neben made the selection on the final climb (up), only to watch in horror as her chain shifted off of her chain ring, and the lead group sped away (down).

But after a few weeks of post-Olympic training, Neben claimed the world title in the time trial (big up).

Neben is beginning her 2009 campaign at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, and VeloNews caught up with the world champ after she won the opening prologue.

VeloNews: Talk about the significance of winning the world title at the end of such a tough season.

Amber Neben: With everything that went down in Beijing — you work so long to just get to go to the Olympics and then to have it end like that was terrible. It wasn’t like I tried and failed, or that I didn’t have the legs. I had the legs, but I had a problem with the bike and didn’t even get a chance to try. At the same time, over the course of my whole athletic career I’ve had to face some difficult things and that was just one more. So I just reset my mind and targeted worlds. I was motivated. I was really hoping I could have raced the Olympic time trial, and when I couldn’t, I just turned my attention to the worlds time trial.

So to actually win worlds, I wouldn’t just say it was eight years in the making. It felt like it was a lifetime in the making. It wasn’t something that just happened overnight. I remember my first year as a pro on the road in 2002 sitting down with Jim Miller and telling him that it was goal to win a world championship at some point. To be able to do it was unbelievable. It was a real honor to win, to be part of the few people who have ever put on a rainbow jersey. It is very humbling. It is so cool. Words can’t express it.

VN: Are you upset about not being put on the Olympic time trial squad?

AN: No. I don’t think about it much. For America, we had three girls capable of winning a medal at that race and only two spots. One of us was going to be left out. I wasn’t involved in that decision making process, but it had to be made. I have a tremendous amount of respect for (Olympic time trial rider) Christine (Thorburn). There’s two ways I could have deal with (being left off) — either be bitter or upset about it or realize that it’s cycling and you need to move on to the next race. For me it’s more motivation for 2012.

VN: How about the dropped chain? Do you still think about that?

AN: Yeah, eh — it’s bike racing, I guess. That’s the simple way to put it. It just happened to be the Olympic road race. It’s something you have to move on from. I can’t let it get me down. But I have to say, I checked that chain several times before the race. I actually went through the (dropped chain) scenario several times before the race. I tried hard to drop it and I couldn’t! So I thought I was OK. And when it dropped during the race I was like, Oh wow.

VN: So in the off season did you do anything different? Did you do some big celebrating?

Neben capped off her 2008 campaign in fine style.

Neben capped off her 2008 campaign in fine style.

Photo: Graham Watson

AN: It was pretty much business as usual. I got home and obviously celebrated with the people who are closest. For the most part cycling isn’t that big of a sport in America so it wasn’t like I had major media outlets knocking on my door.

VN: Well here we are now!

AN: Ha — but it was fun to go on the group rides. The thing I noticed was that cyclists look at you differently. I’m still the same person and I feel the same inside. But it was funny to see a difference in respect level, and I guess admiration. I didn’t think much of it. I am a shy person, and I sometimes have to remind myself that it is important for me to be the person to say hello and talk to people I don’t know.

VN: Well you’ve won the world championship now — what’s your motivation to keep racing?

AN: I want to win another one. I still love racing my bike. The big races are still out there, and I’m on a new team which brings some new motivation to help me win. The 2012 Olympics is another goal. The big stage races and the world championships are always there.

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