Editor’s note: To close out 2017, we named our 30th annual VeloNews awards in the November/December issue of VeloNews magazine.
Domestic female rider of the year: Amber Neben
When she turned 40, Amber Neben decided to simplify her life. Rather than crisscross the globe chasing UCI points every weekend, Neben streamlined her racing schedule to focus on just two races: the world and national championships.
“I wanted to be minimalist with my schedule,” says Neben, now 42. “With my age and physiology, there is only so much intensity I can do.” Neben says her new approach was also an outgrowth of a series of debilitating crashes, the most recent of which occurred in 2013. After spending two years in recovery, Neben says she was wary of racing too much, fearing another crash could end her career for good.
Neben’s pared-down strategy bore her a world title in the individual time trial in 2016, so for 2017, she embarked on a similar schedule. She participated in a handful of stage races and one-day events in the spring, all in preparation for the U.S. national championships in Knoxville, Tennessee. She arrived at the two-day race knowing that her form was nearing its zenith.
Neben expected to dominate the individual time trial, which she did, beating Lauren Stephens by 32 seconds. With no teammates, Neben had few expectations for the following day’s road race. So when the lead group slowed with 35 kilometers remaining in the 101-kilometer race, Neben decided to make a daring solo move.
“I had nothing to lose — I wasn’t afraid to lose,” Neben says. “And I knew I had really good legs.”
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Neben’s gap ballooned to more than 30 seconds as the women’s peloton struggled to organize itself. None of the teams wanted to tow sprinter Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) to the line, and without a teammate of her own, Rivera was in no position to chase. When the pack finally did give chase, it was too late, and Neben powered across the line with an 11-second buffer.
“It was a really special weekend,” Neben says. “It’s one of the biggest accomplishments of my career.”