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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

An interview with Amber Neben

By Chris Henry

Amber Neben

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Neben in TT mode
Photo: © C. Henry

Born: February 18, 1975

Major results


Gracia Cez: 1st overall, one stage win, mountains classification
Housatonic Valley Classic: 2nd
Vuelta a Castilla y Leon: 4th
Sea Otter Classic: 9th


USCF Elite National Road Championships (Redding, Calif.): 2nd in road race; 6th in time trial
GP Féminin International du Canada: One stage win
NORBA National Championship Series (Big Bear Lake, Calif.): 4th in cross country
Cascade Cycling Classic: 1st overall, two stage wins
Tour de 'Toona: 6th
Valley of the Sun: 4th
Redlands Bicycle Classic: 10th
HP Women's Challenge: 15th, one stage win

After the dust settled from this year's Grande Boucle Féminine, Cyclingnews' Chris Henry got in touch with USA National- T Mobile's Amber Neben to discuss her background in the sport, the Grande Boucle, and where things are headed next for one of the new stars of American women's cycling.

Neben has been steadily accumulating some strong results in the women's peloton, including a stage win and the overall at this year's Gracia Cez-Ede stage race in the Czech Republic, and a recent 9th place overall at the Grande Boucle Féminine. At age 27, the Orange, California native appears a likely candidate for some big wins in the next few years.

Cyclingnews: Prior to hitting the road you raced as a mountain biker with Sobe/Headshox. How did you get into professional [mtb] cycling, and what prompted you to cross over to road racing?

Amber Neben: I started riding and racing mountain bikes when running became too hard on my body. I started slow, though. During my first two years ('97, '98), I maybe raced (mtb) 10-15 times total. Aside from that, I rarely did any other training rides. (Grad school provided me with plenty of reading material for the Lifecycles.) I won enough of these races, though, to make me think seriously about bike racing.

In 1999, I hired a coach (Dave Jordaan) and started training. In 2000, I turned pro on the dirt. I also started racing some local crits on the road. After a series of successful road races in 2001, Redlands, Nationals, and HP, I made the switch. Why?? I was enjoying the racing, I was getting results, and Autotrader, a pro team that could take care of my expenses, offered me a position for the remainder of the season. The Lord opened a door. I just walked through it. I just wanted to race my bike. I felt like I was better on the road and that was where I was going to find the best opportunities.

CN: How hard was it for you to reach the professional ranks?
AN:I moved up fairly quickly. My athletic background, soccer and running especially, provided me with a great aerobic base to get into the sport with.

CN: Did you ever think you'd be making a career of racing your bike?
AN: I was fairly focused on getting my PhD until late '99. At this point, my cycling was going really well and my heart was telling me to take a chance with cycling.

CN: With 9th place overall in this year's Grande Boucle, including a real shot at a stage victory (3rd place in stage 12), were you pleased with your performance?
AN: Yes, I was happy with the results and with the effort of my teammates. That was my first grand tour. I learned a tremendous amount about bike racing and about myself... I am looking forward to future adventures. As for Stage 12, it was a HEARTBREAK!!! So close... yet so far. If you're going to win, though, you have to take those risks and put in the big efforts.

CN: The Grande Boucle looked like a tough race with some pretty serious competition. Not to mention some nasty weather in the Alps. What were the hardest moments for you?
AN: Two weeks and almost 1,700km of racing was hard. The climbing was hard. I had never climbed that hard for that long that many times in one race (or training)... let alone to do it three-four days in a row. The weather over the Madeline was miserable both days. The hardest stage was probably the one with two HC climbs and a Cat 1 finish in the rain and cold. The course was difficult enough without having to deal with the wet and cold too.

CN: What were the best moments?
AN: The challenges... the same moments that were the hardest! The pavé stage was awesome! (That's the mountain biker coming out in me.) The long solo breakaway, even though I was caught 150m from the line, was good. The effort that my teammates gave every day was awesome to see and be a part of. The way our team worked, gelled and learned on and off the bike over the two-week span.

CN: Do you see yourself as an eventual contender for the overall in the Tour?
AN: I would definitely like to make the tour a goal. Yellow is always a good colored jersey to have.

CN: Do you perform best in single day races or stage races?
AN: Hard to say. It depends on what my preparation is.

CN: Was there a sense during this year's Tour that a new generation of riders is emerging?
AN: That is a hard question for me to answer, because I don't have a reference point for comparison. There are definitely new riders emerging, but at the same time, there are still some very talented and strong veterans. It makes for good, hard racing.

CN: How is the atmosphere and level of support in the USA National-T Mobile team?
AN: The atmosphere and the level of support is incredible. I feel so blessed to have come onto the scene when I did. Everyone from Bob Stapleton at T-Mobile to the USA Cycling people to Jim Miller and Jean Paul Van Poppel are committed to making this program a success and to developing riders who can win medals.

CN: How does this team compare with others you've raced with?
AN: It is the best so far.

CN: Do you ever think about racing with a European team?
AN: Right now, I am really excited about what is happening with Team T-Mobile...

CN: How would you describe the current state of women's cycling both in the United States and internationally?
AN: I believe that women's racing in the US is getting stronger. Toward the end of last year things were looking a little bleak, but with the advent of T-Mobile, Diet Rite, Talgo, etc and of course the continued success of Saturn, things are looking much better. Hopefully, next year there will be a couple more teams in the mix, and as we get closer to the Olympics, things should cycle up even more.

Racing in Europe seems to be doing well. Overall, the field sizes are large and very deep. This makes for good, hard racing all the time. It's fun. Cycling is a mainstream sport in Europe. Even the women get television coverage on Eurosport and the local TV stations.

CN: What does your schedule look like for the rest of this season?
AN: I just finished the Suisse WC, and I am on my way home to prepare for the World Championships.

CN: Are you thinking ahead to any particular goals for next year?
AN: Not yet. I've got two more big races to prepare for right now. After Worlds, my coach and I will review what happened this year, we'll take a look at the schedule for next year, and we'll set some new goals for 2003.


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