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Neben's participation at Worlds uncertain after fracturing pelvis in collision with car

Amber Neben (USA)
Amber Neben (USA) (Image credit: Getty Images)

Amber Neben is recovering from a collision with a car while training two weeks ago in California that has left her with three fractures to her pelvis and contusions to her right leg. 

In an interview with Cyclingnews, Neben said that she's lucky to be alive, and while she is recovering, her participation in the individual time trial at the UCI Road World Championships on September 20 in Belgium remains uncertain.

“Two weeks ago I collided with a car, I had an accident with a car. I was riding north on Pacific Coast Highway through Corona Del Mar and a guy turned left in front of me, he shot a gap in the traffic and just bolted right through the gap, and anytime a bike and a car collide, it’s never a good thing,” Neben told Cyclingnews in a phone interview on Tuesday.

“I was lucky in the sense that, I’m alive and I have no big, big issues, though I fractured my pelvis in three spots. Thankfully, they were non-displaced fractures and so I did not need surgery. Obviously, it’s a big challenge to have to overcome right now.”

Neben told Cyclingnews that the driver was at fault and that a police report had been filed at the time of the incident on August 22. She has also hired an attorney to handle her case. 

“I connected with an attorney to help with the details. [The driver] is at fault. He was turning left and normally when you’re turning left, it’s always on you, so I’m working through that process. He didn’t leave the scene, thankfully, he hung out but I didn’t have a chance to talk to him because I was in so much pain, and then in the ambulance on the way to the ER. The police filed a report and the attorneys will work on that over the next two weeks,” Neben said.

Neben said that she had to first recover from the initial trauma from the car incident. She said that while she didn’t need surgery to repair the fractures, she has had trouble walking at first. Now, she has been able to move around and gently ride a stationary bike.

“I had to recover from the physical trauma enough to start the rehab process,” Neben said. “I’m doing well. I like to think that I’m a miraculous healing machine. I’m walking now. I’m on the bike a little bit. I’m not training, yet, but I’m moving and things are working.”

World Championships

The two-time time trial world champion competed in the Tokyo Olympic Games in the discipline on July 28 where she place fifth behind gold medal winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands).

She was also recently named to Team USA to participate in the time trial at the UCI Road World Championships to be held on September 20 in Belgium.

“I’m going to fight but I won’t know for a couple of weeks whether I can come around enough to be ready for Worlds,” Neben said. “I’m in a holding pattern with that in mind.”

Neben was an automatic qualification for both the road race and the time trial at the World Championships, however, she declined the spot for the road race in order to allow another rider to compete on the team. 

Leah Thomas is also named to the team to compete in the time trial and the road race. The five other members of the team for the road race include national champion Lauren Stephens, Coryn Rivera, Taylor Wiles, Ruth Winder and Kristen Faulkner.

“I was an automatic for both, but I declined the road spot. There’s no way, my pelvis is broken and I’ve been off the bike too long to compete in the road race at this point. That’s off the table. I don’t know that, if this accident didn’t happen, it’s very possible that I would have turned the [road race] spot down because I haven’t road raced very much and I know that there’s a couple of riders who would be more deserving of the spot,” Neben said.

“As far as the time trial goes, sometimes with a big block of rest, and if I can get enough work in, you can pull off a 40-minute performance. Honestly, it depends on how fast I can wisely get through this rehab phase without pain or harming myself, and being back to training.”

Olympic Games: No regrets

USAs Amber Neben competes the womens cycling road individual time trial during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Fuji International Speedway in Oyama Japan on July 28 2021 Photo by Ina FASSBENDER AFP Photo by INA FASSBENDERAFP via Getty Images

Amber Neben (Team USA) at the Tokyo Olympic Games (Image credit: Getty Images)

Neben, 46, competed in her third Olympic Games in Tokyo in July. Her first appearance was in the road race at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, finishing 33rd just months after having surgery for a diagnosis of melanoma. She next competed at the 2012 London Games and finished seventh while her teammate Kristen Armstrong took her second gold medal in the discipline.

In Tokyo, Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) won the time trial, covering the 22.1km course in 30:13. Switzerland’s Marlen Reusser secured the silver medal at 56 seconds back and Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) the bronze medal at 1:01 back. Grace Brown (Australia) was fourth at 1:08 back and Neben was fifth at 1:12.

“At age 46, to be able to perform like I did, I thought it was pretty cool,” Neben said. “It’s a special thing and I enjoyed the opportunity. I enjoyed the challenge. I had a fantastic ride with no regrets. I left every ounce of energy, heart and soul on the course. I was close to medalling but I got beat on the day, so I was happy with the preparation and the performance.

“Being an Olympian is one of the most special things to happen as a cyclist. The Olympics always transcends sports. A lot of people don’t know what cycling is but they know what being an Olympian is, and the recognize the level and what it takes and the commitment and perseverance that it takes to get there. I don’t take it for granted, ever.”

To retire, or not

Neben began racing professionally in 2003 with T-Mobile before moving to Buitenpoort-Flexpoint Team in 2005. She then raced for Equipe Nürnberger in 2009 before joining HTC-Highroad for two seasons 2011 and 2012. She also spent time racing for teams Pasta-Zara, Bepink, Virtu Cycling and the last three seasons with Ceogas Mettler. 

Her achievements include winning two world titles in the time trial in 2008 and 2016, twice overall winner of the Tour de l’Aude, Route de France and Redlands Bicycle Classic. She’s also won Chrono de Gatineau three times and Chrono des Nations twice.

Asked if she has plans to race for another season, Neben said that she wasn’t sure what her plans were for the 2022 season. She also said that the recent car incident has put her at somewhat of a crossroads.

“To be honest, I’m not sure,” Neben said. “I’m at another crossroads in my career about, do I want to push forward and try to continue to compete at a high level, strategically in the big events, or am I ready to move on and re-prioritize some of the things I’m doing? 

"Honestly, I don’t know. I would love to be able to answer that right now, for so many reasons, but I don’t know what I’m going to be doing.”

Neben said that the trauma she experienced in the collision with the car will have a role to play in her to decision to continue racing or not.

“It could sway me either way, to be honest, it’s one of those things where I’m motivated to get up and come back. When you have an accident like that, it’s hard to think about having your career end on those terms. At the same time, I had an amazing Olympic race and I will always remember that, so I don’t know.”

Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.