Former world and US national champion Amber Neben will race a primarily gravel programme in 2022 as she sets her sights on new challenges and disciplines in the next phase of her career.
Neben spent 2021 focusing on preparing for the time trials at the Tokyo Olympics and the World Championships in Belgium, where she came fifth and fourth respectively. After a long and decorated career on the road, Neben says her focus will shift going forward.
“I love riding my bike, and the gravel world was an open door,” she said. “It looks fun and welcoming. It's a new challenge and definitely gets me very uncomfortable! It keeps me connected to cycling and introduces me to a whole new world of riders.
“It gives me space to shift gears from what I've done for twenty plus years to what I'm going to be doing more of as I go forward.”
Neben confirmed that her programme will include the newly-launched Life Time Grand Prix series - which includes events such as UNBOUND Gravel and has a $250,000 prize purse - as well as Rebecca's Private Idaho and potentially Garmin Gravel Worlds, in Nebraska.
The Shasta Gravel Hugger in Northern California on Saturday marked Neben’s gravel racing debut, an experience she described as like “being a rookie all over again” but overall positive.
“It was an awesome first time ride and race experience!” she said. “The organization, set up, course marking and safety was excellent. The views were amazing and the people I met were super cool. I am definitely going back.”
Though enthusiastic about riding and racing gravel this year, Neben was also clear that she wants to balance her ambitions with her life and values off the bike, which includes coaching, inspiring and challenging others, and building a “virtual discipleship community”.
“One of my big passions is challenging people to do hard stuff,” she said. “I love how the championship intangibles, like PX4 [Neben’s mantra of perseverance, patience, perspective and power], can be developed through sport and then transferred to all phases of life. I want to help people become champions, overcomers. The gravel world is full of championship making moments.”
From a racing perspective, Neben is realistic about her level and will focus on building her level on gravel this season.
“I honestly have so much to learn. My skill set is so far behind,” she said. “On the bike, this year my goal is to continue to improve, learn, and persevere.
“Off the bike, my goal is to continue to grow in my faith with the Lord and help others grow in theirs and develop the inside out strength to survive and thrive in sport and our crazy world.”
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Matilda Price is a freelance cycling journalist and digital producer based in the UK. She is a graduate of modern languages, and recently completed an MA in sports journalism, during which she wrote her dissertation on the lives of young cyclists. Matilda began covering cycling in 2016 whilst still at university, working mainly in the British domestic scene at first. Since then, she has covered everything from the Tour Series to the Tour de France. These days, Matilda focuses most of her attention on the women’s sport, writing for Cyclingnews and working on women’s cycling show The Bunnyhop. As well as the Women’s WorldTour, Matilda loves following cyclo-cross and is a recent convert to downhill mountain biking.