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On Tuesday, I am going back to where my road cycling career all began: an international, women’s-only race in Idaho. A long, long time ago, back in 2001, before Twitter and Facebook and when DSL was fast internet, I was a broken hearted distance runner-turned-gym rat-turned mountain bike racer/grad student who was invited to race the HP Women’s Challenge with Mr. Safford’s Earthlink team. They were a local team in my Southern California area, and I was excited and up for the challenge.
I really had no idea what I was getting into. I had only been mountain bike racing and riding for threeish years. On the road, I had raced some local crits and a collegiate road race, but I had never been in a field like the Women’s Challenge, nor had I raced two days in a row, let alone 14! I was very raw with lots to learn, but there I was… in the middle of this HUGE international women’s bike race… with no fear, an opportunity, and this crazy idea that I was going to try to win a stage. And I did… and that started the dominoes falling for my road cycling career.
The stage win qualified me for the world championship road team, it earned me a second-half gig with the professional team Autotrader.com, and it put me in a position to sign on with the original USA National T-Mobile team which was about to begin in 2002. My road racing career was launched, and this crazy cycling journey over mountains and through valleys (that I am still on) would shortly take flight. Wow. As an aside, it is so fun to think back about how the pieces of the puzzle came together. I certainly would never have dreamt that up prior to age 26 or ever arranged things that way, but for me, there is always something about God’s timing and orchestrating that makes me smile.
This year, after seven or eight years of non-existence, the Tour of Idaho is being reinvented as The Exergy Tour. Thanks to Exergy, there will once again be a high-level UCI stage race for women in America, and major international women’s racing will return to an area with a huge heart for cycling. It will only be five days, but it will involve many of the top teams in the world fighting for victory. Then, in addition to the team aspect of the racing, each team will have athletes vying for both individual Olympic positions and their nations’ Olympic Games start spots. The race will also have a huge prize purse and live Internet tracking similar to the men’s races. And you never know, it may also provide an opportunity for a few unknown individuals to show their talents and potentially have their lives changed. It is really going to be a special event, and I am excited to be a part of it.
My Specialized-lululemon team will come with a full arsenal. Ina, Trixie, Clara, Emilia, Loren, Evie, Ally, and I will be ready to play. Our awesome staff of hard working and never get the glory individuals, Beth, Olli, Ronny, and part-timers Magnus and Lana, will take care of the behind the scenes details of the bike race. Assuming our Di2-SRM-HED-equipped Specialized Amiras and Shivs make it through the Chicago bike abyss and Denver airports from Ottawa, we will be set to compete with the best equipment. And when we are all sweaty and dirty after the races… well, at least when I am all sweaty and dirty after a race (and maybe Ina) the others may just glisten; we’ll wipe off with our Action Wipes before we get our Ultragen Recovery in us and put on, as Evie would say, our “A W E S O M E” lululemon clothing.
We all expect the racing and tension to be high, and we expect to suffer and hurt in that fun bike racing way, but we will also be smiling and laughing as we compete. Follow the race and cheer for Specialized-lululemon or one of the other teams out there! We are all super appreciative of the support for our team and for women’s cycling. We work hard and race hard, and as I mentioned, hopefully, we inspire along the way, too!
All the best!
Editor’s Note: Amber Neben is a former world champion, Olympian and seasoned international vet. She is in her 10th year of full-time racing, this year with the new Specialized-lululemon squad. She hopes to give readers a different perspective on cycling, life as a cyclist, and the women’s pro peloton. You can follow Amber on Twitter @amberneben, on Strava or at velociosports.com. Check out her non-profit organization at thedaretobeproject.org.