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Amber Neben will race for the Webcor Builders team for the balance of 2010, she confirmed Thursday. The 2008 world time trial champion will be at the start of Sunday’s Sacramento Grand Prix criterium with the team.
“(The team) contacted me after Redlands to see if I would be interested in riding with them for the second half of the year,” said Neben. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for the girls that ride there.”
Neben’s Cycling Noris (formerly Equipe Nürnberger Versicherung) trade team downsized significantly early this year after a title sponsor search yielded no results. Neben and newly-signed teammate Nicole Cooke left the team; Cooke and Neben rode with the British and U.S. national teams for the spring classics, respectively.
Neben came to terms with Webcor in early May.
“My whole season was really up in the air based on what had happened,” said Neben. “I was just kind of waiting for an opportunity that looked like a good fit, a good situation, for the second half. It was one of those things where the timing was right and it looked like a good situation for me.”
After Sacramento, Neben expects to ride in the Webcor kit at the Liberty Classic, Nature Valley Grand Prix, U.S. National Championships and Cascade Classic. She also plans to don the national team colors at the Giro Donne in July and hopes to split time in the U.S. and Europe in preparation for world championships.
“It’s tricky this year with worlds being in Australia. The last few years, I really liked using that Tour of Ardeche race for preparation, but two things: there’s an extra week between that race and worlds and the travel,” said Neben. “I’ll probably end up doing some racing in America in September, whether it’s with the guys somewhere, I’m not really familiar with the calendar.”
Down the tubes
Neben originally planned to fulfill the second season of her two-year contract with her former team in 2010; however, that plan was put into doubt when new title sponsor Skyter Shipping dropped its sponsorship amid reports of the company’s involvement in a fraud investigation. The team notified riders of the sponsorship issue in December and when no new sponsor emerged, management was forced to downsize under the privately financed moniker Cycling Noris.
“It looked good until December,” said Neben. “Unfortunately, everything fell apart at that time.”
Neben held out hope that team management would find a replacement sponsor, but when she received an email in January explaining the team’s financial situation and plans for the year, she jumped ship, along with Cooke.
“Things like that usually happen for a reason,” said Neben. “Sometimes when you’re in the middle of it, you’re a little bit frustrated and confused, but if you step back and are patient and just hang in there, better opportunities either present themselves or it changes things up for some positive reason down the road.”
That opportunity came knocking when Webcor called after Redlands. While Neben thought she would continue splitting time between the national team and composite teams, as she did at that race, the prospect of joining a quality program was too good to pass up.
“I hadn’t really reached out to anybody,” said Neben. “It’s a lot more fun being on a solid team that can help you defend. I know from my previous wins that I’ve won races because I’ve been on solid teams that have helped me do great things.”
At Webcor, Neben will join a lineup that includes Katheryn Curi-Mattis, who sits in third-place in the National Racing Calendar individual standings, and former Canadian national champion Alex Wrubleski.
“I am very excited to race with Katheryn,” said Neben. “I think we have the same mindset. I know that if I am in the leader’s position, she will do anything and everything that she can to help me. She knows that I will do the same for her, or whoever. There is a good trust factor between the two of us. We also both know that is good to have multiple options to win races.”
Back from an unplanned break
Neben will return to racing Sunday after a full month away from competition following a muscle injury she suffered at the Tour of Flanders. “Flanders was a total last minute opportunity/decision to go,” said Neben. “I landed the day before and my bike didn’t make it. I had to scrape together a bike.”
With her bike and pedals missing in action, Neben rode a borrowed bike with new cleats and pedals in the race. Her cleat would not release from the pedal without the assistance of her mechanic and when Neben was caught behind a crash in the field early in the race, a rider ran into her from behind, forcing her foot from the bike.
“The torque on my leg, it just got the muscle just right,” said Neben. “It wasn’t anything that was serious, but due to the nature of where it was and how it affects riding, I couldn’t mess around with it. I had to deal with it and deal with it the best way possible, which was to allow it to heal or it would be a problem the rest of the year.”
Neben suffered a muscle tear high in her Adductor Longus and Rectus Femoris where they attach. “I had to totally shut down and let the muscle heal,” she said.
As a result, Neben canceled her planned start at the Tour de l’Aude, which opens Friday.
She did, however, confirm her start in Sacramento, her first with Webcor.
Starting in Sacramento, Neben will work for her Webcor teammates and hopes they will do the same for her. “The ultimate goal is that someone on the team wins and having multiple threats can only help this cause from a tactical standpoint,” she said. “Mainly, though, it is the complete understanding that ‘we’ win races. The sum of the whole is greater than the individuals involved.”
Editor’s Note: Amber Neben writes a monthly diary for VeloNews.com