Lest there be any doubts, Amber Neben's solo foray off the front of the women's road race at the World Championships in Doha was not some sort of valedictory lap of honour. After claiming the time trial title in midweek, Neben revealed that she will be scaling back her racing commitments next season, but riding for USA at the 2017 Worlds remains resolutely in her plans.
"Winning Worlds in the TT gets me an automatic spot for next year so I can focus on that and I will," Neben told Cyclingnews after Saturday's elite women's road race, where Amalie Dideriksen (Denmark) claimed the gold medal.
"As far as the road races goes, if I'm in condition and still in a position where I can help the team, I'd love to be able to do that again. I don't want to be taking a position from somebody who would be better off and I haven't seen the course yet. But for sure it's on the table."
The USA team at these Worlds was built around the fast-finishing Coryn Rivera, with Neben delegated to go on the offensive with more than three laps remaining in a bid to force the hand of the principal sprinters' teams. Neben had initially hoped for some company on her raid, but stuck gamely to her task when no reinforcements arrived. She established a maximum lead of almost a minute, but she was reeled in at the bell as the Netherlands wound up the pace in the bunch.
"I went hoping one of the Dutch riders would come and nobody did. At that point you have to commit one way or another and I did," Neben said. "It took the pressure off in terms of setting up the sprint for Coryn. I knew what was going to happen, so I just tried to hold it out there as long as possible and get them set for the final lap. It worked, but it just didn't come together in the finish."
Rivera could only manage 16th at the end of a race where Neben's lone attack and Olga Zabelinskaya's disqualification for an illegal bike change were among the few highlights ahead of that dramatic finishing sprint. Unlike the men's race on Sunday, the women's event did not incorporate a lengthy loop into the more exposed desert roads in Doha's hinterland, though Neben was not convinced that such an addition would have altered the race significantly.
"I think the only thing that maybe would have broken it up was if the conditions were really extreme but it was a bit cooler today than the time trial and I think people have been here long enough and they were able to acclimatise better. And because of the nature of the race, most of the nations were committed to their sprinter and raced it accordingly too," Neben said.
"Maybe if we had something through the desert early in the crosswinds, that maybe could have split the race, but at the same time, when that's early in the race and you have laps like this, it becomes kind of predictable in terms of how it plays out. it would have to be really windy out there to split it. But you don't get a sprint World Championships very often, so the teams were motivated and they were just going to execute for the sprinter."
Saturday's road race brings the curtain down on a complicated season for Neben, who went to an arbitration panel in an unsuccessful bid to earn selection for the Rio 2016 Olympics, but the 41-year-old had the sizeable consolation of winning the world time trial title on Tuesday, eight years on from claiming the rainbow jersey in the same discipline in Varese.
"I'm always looking forward and looking for solutions. I didn't get to race in Rio but I got to race here and I prepared well," she said.
"Having won a World Championships already I knew I had it in me and I could feel it the last two years from the power numbers. Everything I was putting out on the bike was as good or better than when I won the Worlds in 2008. It was really just about seizing the opportunity when it came."
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