Amber Pierce (Colavita-Bianchi) might just have been a celeste-coloured blur to many of the fans who watched the UCI Women's WorldTour visit California earlier this month for the Amgen Women's Race, but the 36-year-old American has for the better part of a decade been a loyal domestique, slogging it out in Europe and stateside, drawing from her love for the sport to keep going.
In many ways, Pierce, (a former Cyclingnews blogger) embodies the majority of the women's cycling world - the many passionate riders who are fighting and sacrificing outside the spotlight, helping their teammates win races and working to make the sport better for the athletes who are just discovering the sport.
Over the last decade, the former collegiate national champion has built a solid career as a domestique in the bigger races, taking a few small victories closer to home, all the while advocating for female athletes and bike-friendly communities.
"You could sum up the longevity my career in one word, resilience," Piece said. "It has been a long span of years and has spanned a lot of different teams and languages. Bike racing is a hard sport and what I have found is, what has helped me stay in it for a long time is number one, it is a source of joy to me."
Pierce was born in Northern California and grew up in Reno, Nevada close to the race's start in South Lake Tahoe. As a swimmer, Pierce earned a scholarship to Stanford, but a shoulder injury interrupted her first athletic career. Pierce discovered cycling and quickly climbed the ranks from a Cat 4 to professional in less than two years.
Pierce caught the attention of the Webcor Women's team, which was based out Northern California, after winning two collegiate cycling titles in 2005. Pierce rode her first professional season in 2006 supporting riders like Olympian Christine Thorburn. It was at Webcor that Pierce began to evolve into a trusted domestique.
"My focus has been more internal on the process of self-growth than external results," Pierce said. "I love the role of being a domestique and facilitating the success of others. It's been cool to create a career around building up other people. I've found it really fulfilling."
Earlier this month, Pierce competed in the stage race version of the Amgen Women's Race for the first time, and found that her time in the European peloton was a useful asset for her domestic team at a Women's WorldTour event.
"You learn something from every single bike race that you do, and I've been at this for over ten years," Pierce said. "The European experience definitely helps because I'm familiar with some of the teams and riders, but really everybody is bringing something to the table."
In recent years Pierce has expanded her athletic portfolio to work on different advocacy and mentoring projects. Pierce currently resides in Connecticut and has been working with Bike Mansfield to get her town recognized as a bike-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists. She also started her an organization called Network for Advancing Athletes which helps advance women in athletic careers.
"The analogy I like to use is that most women come into sport and they feel like they are hacking their way through the jungle with a machete," Pierce said. "The truth is there are a bunch of other women that have hacked their way through the same jungle, and they have forged these much better paths. Sometimes all you need is a little bit of guidance to learn from the mistakes others have made."
Looking back at her career Pierce points to victories at the Tour of the Gila and Tour de Nez as highlights, but it is clear that personal relationships, and not the racing, is what has kept her going over the last decade. Pierce draws energy from the people team in her orbit, and after 10 years and half a dozen professional cycling teams, it is a big orbit. Before the start of the Amgen Women's Race in South Lake Tahoe Pierce reflected on what she's derived from her longevity.
"I don't know how much longer I have left in the sport, but being able to take in a day like today, riding around Tahoe with these incredible women, who are so strong and so kick ass," Pierce said. "I can't really think of another career where I could surround myself with such amazing people so willing to sacrifice for each other."