Amber Neben will begin her racing state-side season as a guest rider for the BMW-Bianchi Elite Cycling Team at the Redlands Bicycle Classic set to take place from March 25-28 in California. The former UCI World Time Trial Champion will focus on a lighter race calendar this year to allow time to launch her latest charity endeavor, The Dare To Be Project.
"I'm really thankful that the BMW-Bianchi team found a space for me and will be taking me in for the week during Redlands," said Neben who won the overall title on two occasions. "Hopefully we can have some fun. I have no idea what to expect form-wise but it's a local race, and it's good to go race hard early in the year to bring the top end fitness around."
Neben recently won a stage of the Tour of New Zealand while racing under the US National Team. She admitted that her form is a little behind as she is still recovering from a broken hand sustained at the World Championships held in Mendrisio, Switzerland last September.
"I need to recover a little bit longer so I decided not to race in San Dimas and instead start in Redlands," Neben said. "As soon as I get the national team schedule dialed down, I can start adding in more US racing. With most of the American stuff, I will look for a team to jump in with."
Neben found herself in a bind when her German-based squad Equipe Nürnberger Versicherung's new sponsor Skyter GmbH backed out of its funding obligation in December. The team's top riders included Neben, Trixi Worrack, Charlotte Becker and Nicole Cooke, all forced to look for a contract elsewhere.
The collapse of what would have been called the Skyter World Team left Neben, a former time trial World Champion and two-time winner of the Tour de L'Aude, without a team for the 2010 season.
"It happened so late that all the other teams were full," Neben said. "Myself, Cooke and Trixi were all in the same situation. I think we are going to end up racing for our national teams this year."
Neben chose to look on the bright side having a flexible schedule with a limited number of race days. She will compete primarily for the US National Team overseas with a focus on the Tour de L'Aude in France, Giro Donne in Italy and the UCI World Championships in Australia. The break from a full European schedule will allow her to recoup and prepare for the 2012 Summer Olympics Games in London.
"The way I'm looking at it is that the next two years are going to be really structured and focused as I try to make the Olympic team again," Neben said. "It will be really important to be doing a bunch of racing and traveling with a really heavy schedule. If there was a year to have some flexibility this is the year. I'm not going to stress about. I want to find opportunity where I can."
The Dare To Be Project launches this month
Neben recently incorporated her Dare To Be Project, a charity that gained momentum in December by gifting 40 Fuji bikes to children from low-income or homeless families in Orange County, California.
"I enjoyed putting together the project for the homeless kids and the bikes over Christmas," Neben said. "It's been kind of a goal and passion of mine to do this in the last few years, but I hadn't gone forward with it. This whole team situation is sort of a blessing in disguise because it has given me a little bit more time at home and a chance to focus on getting this charity started."
Neben is well-known for her generous volunteer work at local transitional housing. With more time on her hands this year, she has plans to bring her charity to a new level by expanding to include an education-focus.
"This has a lot to do with my faith and knowing that I've been blessed with a good family and so many opportunities to do things," Neben said. "I want to be able to share that with people. I've come a long way through various obstacles to get to where I am. I never quit or gave up, and I feel like that message is something I want to give to these kids. The message is not to give up on life and to dare to be something, anything. Whatever it is they want to be, not to be afraid to try to go after it."
The Dare To Be Project website will be launched soon.