Déjà vu all over again. After a summer spent waiting for an arbitration panel to rule on her unsuccessful appeal to be selected on the United States team for the Rio 2016 Olympics, Amber Neben found herself fretting over another verdict in the women's time trial at the UCI Road World Championships in Doha on Tuesday afternoon.
The fastest of the day's early starters, Neben spent more than two hours in the hot seat in the finish area, watching on a small television screen as her fellow contenders edged ever closer to the intermediate times she had set around the 28.9-kilometre course.
It was a different kind of wait and, ultimately, a rather more agreeable kind of verdict, as Neben finished six seconds clear of Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands) and eight ahead of Katrin Garfoot (Australia) to claim her second world time trial crown, eight years after her first rainbow jersey in Varese in 2008.
"That was probably the hardest part of the day. The racing obviously is hard, but we enjoy putting ourselves on the line like that," Neben said afterwards. "But sitting in the hot seat and having to watch people come so close was tough. My heart was skipping beats; I was really anxious.
"It was a long wait. I think I used more energy sitting there waiting than I did on the bike. It was so hard to watch. I feel for Ellen, but at the same time I'm so excited to be able to hold on."
The two American time triallists in Doha – Neben and Carmen Small, who placed 12th – had each appealed USA Cycling's selection for the Olympic Games, and then had to watch from the sidelines as Kristin Armstrong, out of retirement, claimed the gold medal in Brazil. For the 41-year-old Neben, it was likely her final chance to land an Olympic medal, but she managed to digest that setback and recalibrate ahead of the Worlds.
As well as the disappointment of missing out on the Olympics, Neben's recent tribulations included a broken hip sustained at the 2013 Tour of California. Prior to that, she underwent treatment for melanoma in 2007 and received a reduced six-month ban for a 2003 positive test for 19-norandrosterone, having successfully argued that it was the result of a contaminated supplements.
"I think this one is more special than 2008 because of everything that's happened between then and now," Neben said on Tuesday. "There have been so many things I've had to persevere through. Just the struggle and being resilient and persevering, getting up and not giving up. I'm speechless."
American adjusts to warm temperatures
Soaring temperatures have been a feature of the racing thus far in Qatar, and managing the conditions has been a crucial element on a time trial parcours largely bereft of technical difficulties. Indeed, Neben felt that the flat Doha course was ill-suited to her characteristics, though she had prepared assiduously for the heat of the Gulf.
"I was in California, where temperatures were up in the 90s, and was probably pretty comical to see somebody riding in a rain jacket and knee warmers when it was 95 degrees outside, but I was just trying to get my body to start to adapt. Some days, I sat in the sauna after my rides too," said Neben, who experienced the conditions in a competitive setting with her Bepink squad in Sunday's team time trial.
"The heat was very different here. In some of the team time trial training, I tested out wearing the helmet with visor and shoe covers, and I really overheated, so I learned from that, and I changed my warm-up from the team time trial to today. I made some adjustments on the fly."
There had been speculation in recent weeks that Neben might be minded to call time on her career at the end of the current campaign, but 2017 will usher in a scaling back of racing commitments rather than outright retirement.
"I will race a little bit next year. I would like to target some events, some big races. I plan on racing, because I still have the passion and I still enjoy it. I won't be on the road the full year but I will target some events," Neben said.
"I'd also like to start a team in the US, paired with my UCI team, to help some younger riders, and also to talk about some issues that high school students might have with regards to depression and eating disorders. I'd like to be able to encourage young people to set goals, to persevere and work hard."
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