Amber Neben called it “risky” competing in this week’s USA Cycling National Championships.
After locking up a spot as one of four members on the U.S. Olympic Women’s Cycling Team, she thought about sitting out this week, especially with the Olympic Games five weeks away. But the lure of winning the nation’s top prize was just too strong.
“I’m looking ahead to the Games. So it was a little risky coming here with my form and being a little flat,” she said. “But at the same time, it’s the national championships. It’s a super special race. It’s always fun to compete here, and I like to compete.”
Neben’s decision to ride paid off in a big way for her Thursday. She bested her U.S. Olympic teammate, Evelyn Stevens, by a second to claim her first USA Cycling time trials national championship.
Neben, of Lake Forest, Calif., finished the 30-kilometer course in a time of 39 minutes and 27 seconds. She edged Stevens, who posted a time of 39:28; last year, Stevens narrowly defeated Neben. Alison Powers placed third at 39:46, while Carmen Small finished fourth (40:51) and Alison Tetrick (41:00) took fifth.
Neben finally broke through in this event after posting seven runner-up showings since 2002.
“I feel like I’m stronger and faster than I was last year,” she said. “Last year when I was here, I was more in peak form. Here, I’m four or five weeks away. So I’m not far away. That’s really positive.”
In the U-23 Men’s event, Evan Huffman, of Elk Grove, Calif., posted a time of 36:40 to claim the national title. The 22-year-old finished seventh in the time trials last year.
“All the best riders in the country are here,” he said. “So that’s a big result.”
Huffman is a former triathlete who began cycling in 2007 and started cycling full time in 2009.
This is his final year in the U-23 category, and he said he’s ready to move up.
“This is really big for my career, getting on a bigger team next year,” he said. “It really shows I’m ready to go to the professional level.”