Though Amber Neben has won some of the biggest time trial races in her career, including the World Championships in 2008 she had never claimed the national time trial title. That is until this year. Neben clocked the fastest time of 39:27, beating her lululemon-Specialized teammate Evelyn Stevens by less than one second.
A reversal from last year when Stevens beat Neben by two tenths of a second on the same 30-km out-and-back course. The course features an overall elevation of 561 feet, gaining 205 feet from the start to the midway point.
“Unbelievable.” Neben told podiuminsight. “When I looked at Evie, we looked at each other and we just shook our heads and smiled. I guess it’s fitting after what happened last year but at the same time I’m so excited to finally win a time trial championship, and at the same time I know exactly what she feels like being that close. It’s kind of bitter sweet. It’s been a long time so I’m happy.”
After a string of seven second places, the 37-year old rider finally claimed the Stars and Stripes as a time trial national champion. Neben did win the USA national road race championship back in 2003.
“It’s funny. With it being an Olympic year and such a huge focus on the Olympic Games that Nationals this year if I’m honest is kind of an after-thought just because I have such a huge focus on the Olympic Games but at the same time, it is the national championships. I don’t think you ever take the national championships for granted, it’s hard to win a tittle and so winning one is a super special thing. I’m thrilled about it especially after being second so many times, it’s like alright thank you God, finally.” she added with a laugh.
Not only did Neben have to work on the mental side at Nationals but she, along with all the other athletes, had to contend with the challenging conditions. For the second year in a row, the USA Cycling National Junior, Under23 and Elite Championships were held in Augusta, Georgia with temperatures in the mid 90 F and high humidity.
“It’s hard.” Neben said of the conditions in Augusta. “I think it’s hard to prepare for the humidity more than anything and the heat in combination with it just made it that much more difficult. It wasn’t as bad as last year but it’s still hard enough where I altered my warm up. I did something different than I did last year, last year I made some mistakes in my warm up, and so I did things a little bit different this year.”
“I think I’m close to getting it right for the heat, it’s almost like when you think of the balance between aerodynamic and power, you have to find that balance and I think that when you’re racing in conditions like this you have to find that balance between doing enough in your warm up to be ready and keeping your core temperature down. I was sort of close but it’s just hard, there is no way to prepare for this except to be in it and unfortunately I can’t come to Georgia for two weeks before.”
Neben called her winning ride good but not great. “My bar is trying to have a ride where I could win a world championship or an Olympic medal, that’s my bar. I had a really good ride today but I got more in me and I’m looking forwards to getting that the next three weeks. Today, considering just the build up to Exergy Tour, the announcement, you have a little bit of let down and you take a breath and you’re kind of flat and I’m kind of in that phase right now. In a sense it was really hard to race today but I think I did a really good job mentally staying in the race the whole time, staying in rhythm and riding the course, being on it with what I had today. It was good in all that sense.”
Following her team’s domination at the Exergy Tour, Neben waited to see who would represent the USA at the 2012 London Olympic Games. The team which included Neben for both the time trial and the road race events was named on June 15, the Friday before Nationals.
And now it’s all about that final tune-up for the Olympic Games with the road race on Sunday July 29. and the time trial on Sunday July 29 Thursday August 2.
“I’ll do a three-week build with my coach we’ll do a really specific training plan.” said Neben who left Georgia on Sunday. She plans on racing Internationale Thuringen Rundfahrt der Frauen in Germany on July 17 as part of her preparation.
“I actually like to race hard for seven days, 10 days out from a big event. Thuringen finishes 10 days before the time trial, for the type of preparation I like to do, it sets me up really well.”
Neben recon’ed the 29-km Olympic course back in April on a trip with her husband. “It was pouring rain the whole time I was there but I saw it. I really liked it. I think it’s a really great course, it’s a great time trial course, and I’m anxious to get out and see what happens.”
The other big time trial race that Neben has never won is the the one at the Olympic Games. She wants it.