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by Neal Rogers
December 22, 2016
There were countless stories to emerge during the 2016 season that had great significance, and impact, on American cycling. These were the 10 most important.
1. Kristin Armstrong, Olympic time trial champion
2. Megan Guarnier, 2016 UCI Women’s WorldTour champion
3. Amber Neben, world time trial champion
4. Axeon Hagens Berman: Best development team of all time?
5. Andrew Talansky, fifth overall, Vuelta a España
6. Brandon McNulty, junior world time trial champion
7. Tejay van Garderen loses Tour leadership role at BMC Racing
8. Cannondale-Drapac goes without a WorldTour victory
9. Amgen Tour of California to become a WorldTour event in 2017
10. Mara Abbott’s heartbreaking ride at the Rio Olympic road race
A former world time-trial champion who turned 41 in February, Amber Neben finished second at TT nationals in May — as well as at the Redlands TT in April — but was not selected for the Olympic team, just as she was not selected for the 2015 worlds held on home soil in Richmond, Virginia.
She made up for those perceived slights — she’d appealed USA Cycling’s Olympic selection in June — by winning a second career world title, eight years after her first.
Neben’s athletic career has been plagued by setbacks, starting as a child; she battled spinal meningitis at the age of four, and was in a coma for several days. Doctors warned her parents that the disease might cause deafness, brain damage or death.
Other setbacks have included a fight against cancer, overcoming melanoma in 2007; a six-month suspension for a non-intentional violation (tainted supplement), in 2003; and several injuries, including three between 2009 and 2010 that all required hospitalization and surgery. A dramatic crash at the 2013 Amgen Tour of California time trial, while wearing the national champion’s skinsuit, left her with a broken hip and could have spelled the end of her career.
Instead, Neben pushed through the pain, bouncing around from one team to the next, riding for Pasta Zara, Visit Dallas DNA and, finally, BePink-La Classica. Racing in the U.S this spring, Neben wore the colors of The Dare to Be Project, the nonprofit she founded with the aim of impacting the lives of financially and physically challenged youth.
At the world championships in Doha, Qatar, Neben was the oldest competitor in the field, setting an early best time that left her in the hot seat for hours. Ultimately she would be crowned world champion, with a 5.99-second victory margin over Ellen van Dijk of the Netherlands. The victory put Neben in the company of Kristin Armstrong (USA), Judith Arndt (Germany), Jeannie Longo (France), Karin Thurig (Switzerland) and Leontien van Moorsel (Netherlands) as the only women to win multiple world TT championships.
“It’s so unbelievable,” Neben said. “Traditionally I am a steady rider, not real fast in the beginning, and then I just try to sustain. I think the difference was really just mental perseverance.”