By Hedwig Kröner in Varese
American cyclist Amber Neben consecrated her professional career Wednesday with the victory of the gold medal in the elite women's time trial of the World Championships in Varese, Italy. A dream came true for the 33 year-old, two-time winner of the Tour de l'Aude, as she scored the best time on the difficult course around the North Italian town: Neben raced the 25.15km-course in 33'51 minutes, averaging 44.57 km/h.
"I don't have any words - I am so excited, so happy. I can't speak right now, I don't know what to say. It's a dream come true," an overjoyed Neben said at the post-race press conference, not used to the media bustle.
Neben admitted that her main focus at the end of this season had been on the Worlds time trial, and that she prepared thoroughly for it. "After the Olympics, I went home, took a little bit of a break while still continuing to ride," she explained. "I worked on some base fitness, with the whole focus being on this race. I knew I still had a lot of motivation left in me, even though it's late in the season."
She proved a strong fitness in the Tour de l'Ardèche, taking the overall victory - a first reward for her focus. "I came over to Europe and did an eight-day racing block in Italy and France: two time trials and the Tour de l'Ardèche in France, which I won. I used it to get my confidence and fitness back," she continued, also praising the efforts of her trainer, Dave Jordaan.
"My coach designed a really structured build-up for me, and I have to give him a lot of credit. He did a good job getting me ready. Everything has to be perfect on the day - your preparation, your head, your body. It all comes together. It's a fantastic feeling right now."
The race itself unfolded perfectly for Neben. "The course was very beautiful, and very challenging," she said. "You had to stay on the gas the whole time, keeping the power on, keeping it steady. It was really heavy, so it was hard all the way round, and you had to had to be thinking the whole time about what you were going to do, how you were going to take on the corners, hit the different climbs and manage the pacing efforts. I just tried to stay focused the best that I could, and it turned out well."
But Neben had started the race as the 29th of 43 riders in total, so she had to wait quite some time to get her victory confirmed. "There were 13 riders still behind me. Obviously, the only chance to win a medal was to have the best time when I finished - this was the first positive step. But then, I was sitting in the hot chair... there was no TV there, and I didn't have a good feeling as to what was happening in the race and what the time splits were at the other points in the race. I knew who still was to come so I didn't get too excited until those riders came through. I was praying, waiting, hoping..."
Shortly after, Germany's Judith Arndt joined her for second place, but no other rival could compete with her exceptional time - not even her team-mates Christine Thorburn, bronze medallist from the 2006 Worlds in Salzburg, and Kristin Armstrong, 2006 Worlds and Olympic champion, who finished "only" fifth.
Asked how the American team worked as a group, with three of them being favourites in the time trials, Neben said, "We have a good group - we know how each of us are and where the boundaries are. We have a genuine respect for each other, and we genuinely care about each other and want each other to do well. We also want to see the sport to grow in the States, so any of us getting a good result means good news for the sport in the States. Of course there's competition, but it's a time trial as well, so you focus on your own day, your own race and just try to get it done."