By Gary R. Blockus | Feb. 25, 2019, 6:41 p.m. (ET)
Ashton Lambie rides in the UCI Track Cycling World Cup on Oct. 25, 2018 in Milton, Ontario.
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Ashton Lambie’s first taste of a velodrome took place in a cow pasture in Lawrence, Kansas, near where his wife, Margaret, was attending grad school.
“I went for fun on a buddy’s bike and loved it,” the 28-year-old recalled of his first turns on a track cycling oval.
He’s not in Kansas anymore. He’s a world record holder in the individual pursuit and leads a talented group of U.S. men’s endurance riders into the 2019 UCI Track Cycling World Championships that will be held Feb. 27-March 3 in Pruszków, Poland.
Known more as a gravel rider and for success in ultra-endurance events such as the Dirty Kanza, a 200-mile race over off-road surfaces, Lambie turned that lark ride on the Kansas track to shattering the world record in the individual pursuit at the 2018 Pan-American Track Cycling Championships in Aguascalientes, Mexico.
It also sparked hope in the U.S. men’s track cycling endurance program.
The list of U.S. men’s endurance track cycling accomplishments at world championships and at the Olympic Games is neither long nor storied.
Taylor Phinney won back-to-back individual pursuit world championships in 2009 and 2010, along with a bronze medal in the omnium in 2010.
Before Phinney, only Mike McCarthy managed an individual pursuit world championship in 1992.
The last U.S. men’s endurance track cyclist to earn a world championship podium was Bobby Lea with a bronze in the 2015 scratch race.
And as far as success at the Olympic Games goes, the only time the U.S. men’s endurance squad achieved a podium came during the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984, when Steve Hegg won gold in the individual pursuit, Leonard “Harvey” Nitz earned bronze, and the duo teamed with David Grylls and Pat McDonough to win silver in the team pursuit.
Lambie and Co. could be leading the charge to change that.
Lambie, with his famous handlebar mustache, turned heads with his world-record ride last year, clocking in at 4:07.25 to beat the previous world mark by more than three seconds. The time also eclipsed U.S. record of 4:14.2 set by teammate Gavin Hoover moments before Lambie’s ride.
Earlier in the competition, Hoover, Lambie, Eric Young and Colby Lange destroyed the U.S. record in team pursuit in three consecutive riders, bettering the mark by almost nine seconds. With a time of 3:53.86, they became the first Team USA riders to break the 4-minute barrier.
At the Hong Kong world cup last month, Young, Lange, Lambie and Danny Summerhill won silver for Team USA’s first world cup medal in the event in over a year and best result in the team pursuit in at least a decade.
Suddenly, there is hope for unprecedented success on the world stage for U.S. men’s endurance track cycling.
“We have lofty goals for this program and are unapologetic about our aspirations despite being classed as an inspirational program due to a lack of history of results,” said U.S. endurance track cycling coach Clay Worthington. “We have actually ticked off some of our annual goals already, so we’re ahead of the game in some regards on this front.”
“We have a group of athletes with a lot of ability and potential who are working hard and exploring what it takes to challenge the world,” Worthington said. “We have access to equipment that is high quality and puts us in the game. We have backing from great partners who are smart, supportive and engaged. We have support staff who are trying to maximize their contributions. We have a good situation that can be made better with time, ideas, effort and exploration. We are all going to grow and improve. It’s very exciting.”
The individual pursuit is no longer an Olympic race, but Lambie is hopeful he can help build results beyond what has been a meteoric two-year ascension for him.
After enjoying the ride on a 333-meter grass velodrome built in the middle of a cow pasture, Lambie borrowed his friend’s bike again to ride on more standard velodromes when he and his wife made a trip to the 2016 National Flute Association Convention in San Diego. Margaret and Ashton are both musicians.
“It was (a) great (experience), so I started figuring out everything I needed to do to get to nationals the following year,” he said. “I’m also a better build for track than anything else, so it seemed (like) a good fit.”
He chose the Florida state championships for his debut competition and won most of the events. Two-time U.S. Olympian Carl Sundquist, the track director, encouraged Lambie to certify as a Category 1 rider and head to the velodrome in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania, for international races being held there.
“I did both, and that was that,” said Lambie, who is willing to do whatever workouts his coaches present in order to improve.
“Like I said, I’m built for track. I do think my mental state is one of my strongest points … and I recover well. Riding is mentally exhausting. Not everyone realizes that because you’re only going for four minutes for the team pursuit and individual pursuit, but that four minutes is pretty much all our mental energy for the week. It’s important to be calm and composed. I’m good at that.”
Lambie placed seventh at the 2018 world championships and, with more experience and more specific training this year, is looking for better results in Poland.
Hoover will also ride the individual pursuit and team pursuit with Lambie, and at age 21, has a tremendous upside in the track endurance events, as does Lange, just 19.
Young, who turns 30 on Feb. 26, Summerhill, 30, and Adrian Hegyvary, 35, round out the Team USA men’s endurance riders who will compete in the scratch race, Madison and team pursuit.
Worthington expects good result for the men, particularly in the team pursuit and individual pursuit, and then it’s time to focus on Tokyo 2020.
“Olympic qualification is a scramble,” he said. “On paper it’s two years out, but it comes at you quickly so we’ll work hard and fast and try to set ourselves up to achieve our goals. We are currently in good shape for Olympic qualification. We expect to come out of the worlds still in good shape, and that will give us some rope to transition into the next phase of this program.
“We’ll chase the next race block of UCI racing in T-Town, nationals, Pan Am Games, Pan Am Championships. That will take us to the next world cup season. In summary, the future is very process focused and very exciting.”