An amazing world record time in the individual pursuit deserves a follow-up. Last week Ashton Lambie posted 4:07.251 at Aguascalientes in Mexico during the Pan-American championships. RIDE caught up with the 27-year-old to find out more about this phenomenal ride and how ‘Lamb’ became a cyclist…
Within a few minutes of receiving an email asking if he was available for a quick chat, Ashton Lambie’s smiling, moustachioed face was on my computer screen. With the push of a button on FaceTime, it was time to find out more about this phenomenon who obliterated what was one of the most difficult records in cycling to break.
The 4:07 IP prompted the interview and once it was arranged, I realised that it’s rare to speak with someone about such a conquest without knowing too much about the individual. Usually, if someone even gets close to setting a world record, they have a little bit of history – a story, a background in the pet discipline…
Lambie isn’t new to cycling but he’s only been racing on the track for less than two years.
He has done some amazing things on the bike before riding 4:07 at what is widely considered the fastest velodrome in the world – certainly one where significant records have been posted – but he’s quick to point out that the event that got us talking isn’t exactly the most interesting one to watch.
“The individual pursuit is excruciating to watch,” he laughs. “I love racing it but, man, it is boring to watch!”
At Aguascalientes, at an altitude of 1,887m, it’s 16 laps of a timber track from a standing start. Start fast, maintain the power, suffer to the finish. There’s not much to it. Even though there’s a lot of history with the individual pursuit, the fastest time was set by someone who recognises that it’s hardly riveting viewing.
“Even looking at a video of myself – you know, trying to critique it – I’m just really fighting it to stay awake,” says Lambie. “I’m like, ‘Yup, that was a good turn. Okay, and… here’s the next one.’”
We laugh at the thought and keep talking… it’s our first chat, a getting-to-know-you session with him at home in Nebraska and me in an office in Sydney.
Find out more about this versatile cyclist who has one eye on the gravel road outside his home and another on a velodrome in Tokyo where he hopes to continue the renaissance of American track cycling… have a read of our Q&A below.
(Photos courtesy of Ashton Lambie.)
Talking about track racing…
RIDE: It’s a couple of days after Ashton Lambie went around a track in Aguascalientes… very quickly. [He] set the world record in the individual pursuit and recorded a time that no one expected anyone would ever do. How do you feel about that concept?
Ashton Lambie: “I would agree. I think those were well justified thoughts before I did it.
“I didn’t think I was going to go 4:07.
“I had an inkling that I had a good shot at breaking the world record but three second off is quite a lot – more than I thought I was going to do, definitely.”
From the impression that I get, track cycling is fairly new to you. Is it? How long have you been on the ‘fixie’?
“I’ve been racing track for not quite two years, about a year and a half.
“To put it in perspective, a year before the world championships this year, that was when I started doing real track racing – like, not grass track stuff.”
But you understand the significance of a 4:07? You know that’s just something that was sort never really considered possible for an individual pursuit?
“Yeah. I’m fully aware, man.
“I don’t know if I realised the full gravity of it. Like, I was talking to my room-mate and team-mate Gavin [Hoover] about it.
“My nickname on the team is ‘Lambs’ and he said to me, ‘Lambs, I don’t think you still know what you’ve done or if you ever will know what you’ve done.’
“And I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty fair actually.’”
Talk to me about riding endurance at altitude. Did there come a moment when you were like, ‘Okay, I can’t get any oxygen – I feel terrible, I feel depleted…’ or did you feel good right through to the end?
“I wouldn’t say I felt ‘good’.
“Definitely the last three laps – that was pretty brutal. But I knew I had a fair bit of time already in the bank and all I needed to do was sort of hang on the best I could and try not to let my form slip. So, don’t start the shoulder rocking and just look like crap.
“If you can just keep the tuck and still feel good, it’s helpful.
“Our coaches showed us several examples of where the power actually goes down but speed stays roughly the same. So, we had kind of focussed on that and the techniques to get through those last three laps even though I was dropping power.”
Who is coaching you at the moment? I’m trying to understand the set-up over there…
“We have Clay Worthington, he is our team coach – like, from USA Cycling. And then I have a personal cycling coach, Ben Sharp, who was with USA Cycling previously. And then I work with a strength coach locally as well.”
You’re quite an anomaly. It sounds like you’re across all spectrums [of cycling]. It’s funny, now that you’ve done something as a pursuiter, people will quickly talk about your prospects as a potential road cyclist. How are you going to categorise yourself now?
“I think I’m still mostly gravel, that’s what I train on most of the time – just because that’s what’s literally what’s right outside my front door, a gravel road.
“So, I like it. I really like the options of routes. That’s what there is around here, the road riding is kinda shit.
“I’ll probably still keep doing gravel, I really like the scene. I like the ideals it carries – you know? Having a good time on the bike, and you can still work really hard at it.
“And track is just the other half of it; where I like going really fast, and I get to do that because gravel is not as fast as road by a long shot.”
“Me and my dad right after the ride (above). He’s a big fan too!”
Now that you’ve had a taste of international competition and you’ve broken a world record, are you going to bed thinking, ‘Wow, the Olympic dream… I can’t wait to get to Tokyo’? How does that concept sit with you – going to the Olympics?
“It’s sits pretty well. That was kind of the whole… that’s been our goal all along. That’s been the goal of the men’s team pursuit program since we started. Even when they came out with the new qualifiers…
“Everything we’ve been doing up until this point was towards that goal.
“So, the world record is awesome – it’s [earned me] a lot of press but it doesn’t necessarily change anything… as far as working with the men’s team pursuit program, as a top priority, trying to get to Tokyo.”
I’m just trying to understand the cultural differences. In Australia there’s a big deal that’s made about the Olympics and the track program – that’s the big emphasis of spending… and my understanding of the track program in the States is that it’s basically in its infancy and USA Cycling is trying to find its feet again.
“Yeah, that’s accurate.
“The emphasis for us is definitely on men’s team pursuit. That is, far and above, our top priority.
“You know, the individual pursuit and [that event] at the world championships would definitely be a second-tier priority compared to the team pursuit.”
So, you’ve gone under four minutes in the team pursuit (3:53.868), talk to me about that… do think you could ever imagine going under 3:50, like the Aussies did earlier this year?
“I don’t know. Yeah, I can imagine what it would be like.
“I think the great thing for us is that even when you take into consideration that [our] time was set at ‘Aguas’ and that’s a fast track. They say a 3:53 at Aguas is still roughly a 3:56 at a sea-level track – that’s still a medal capable time at pretty much any World Cup.
“It’ll be interesting to see which World Cups Australia picks to go to and to have them back in the mix at the world championships (which the Aussie team won in 2017 but didn’t defend the title in 2018). That’ll definitely change the standings a little bit but we know what we need to do at the next few World Cups.
“It’s a good group of guys and we’ve still got a lot of potential to grow, which is probably the most exciting thing.
“That ride (at Aguascalientes) was probably the best we’ve ridden. Obviously, time wise, it’s the best we’ve ridden but technique-wise it felt really smooth. It didn’t feel like we were just absolutely on the rivet the whole time.
“It felt super in control which was probably the most exciting thing.”
I assume that you’ve seen footage of the final from Rio  when it was Australia against Team GB. Have you seen that race for what was a world record at the time?
When it’s at that level, it becomes a real dog fight and it’s not real pretty… it is quite exceptional to watch though. I love team pursuit, it’s a compelling event, but I wonder how much of a culture there is for it in the States.
“I would say there’s a pretty good following for it. I think people get more excited about team events that individual events.
“I would, infinitely, rather watch a team pursuit than an individual pursuit.
“The individual pursuit is excruciating to watch. I love racing it but, man, it is boring to watch!
“Even looking at a video of myself – you know, trying to critique it – I’m just really fighting it to stay awake. I’m like, ‘Yup, that was a good turn. Okay, and… here’s the next one.’
“I agree with you, there is just a whole other dimension to [the team pursuit].
“When we start racing the other team, that really does change the dynamic of it for sure.
“To me it’s a different thing at that point. And to be totally honest, we haven’t had a tonne of experience doing that.”
And I wonder if that’s good or bad, you know? If you’re coming in completely raw with no expectation, you’re just going to sit on the wheel as tight as you can and go as hard as you can… and basically let your sensations dictate tactics.
“Sure. I view it as a good thing, just as an opportunity for growth.
“It could hinder us. Like, obviously, lack of experience is always a hinderance but there’s just more opportunity for upward mobility.
“When you get up to GB or Australia’s level, it’s a lot harder to keep improving, whereas for us we’re all so fresh, we’re all so new and the improvements all come fairly rapidly. We’ll be able to see those big decreases in times.”
* * * * *
Out of the gate for the IP in Mexico (above).
Understanding Lambie’s physiology
Let’s talk a little about you. Can you give me your weight and height as it is at the moment?
“I’m about 5’10” (178cm) and about 160 pounds (72.5kg).”
And has your weight fluctuated since you’ve really started to focus on the track? Have you lost weight? Gained weight? Put on muscle? How are you affected physiologically by the changes in disciplines?
“It’s been a little bit of change. I’ve probably dropped 10 pounds, I was probably 170. I’ve dropped about five to eight kilos since the world championships (28 February-4 March 2018). I don’t know what to attribute that to.
“I’ve been training super-hard. It’s been a really heavy load, the last four months.
“It’s been super-hot in Nebraska, so that’s impacted me a lot.
“I would say I’m definitely leaner but also more muscular.
“I’m hitting the gym pretty regularly too, two or three times a week, that makes a big difference.
“Body fat is way down; we did a test for that…
“And that’s about all the changes I’ve noticed.”
And what about your day-to-day cycling regimen now? Are you just going out and having fun still or is it a lot more structured with Tokyo on your mind?
“Ever since I started working with Ben, it’s been very structured and I honestly enjoy that. Being able to get all the green boxes on Training Peaks, even if it’s two or three work-outs a day, it’s good. I like it!
“In the gym it’s the same thing. You know, you go in, you’ve got your work-outs, you do the prescribed number of sets and reps, and you increase it by three percent over a week… it’s pretty straightforward, it’s pretty simple. I like that aspect of it, for sure.”
We’ve talked a little bit about road cycling, a bit about gravel, and about track. Is there mountain biking on your program? Have you done BMX? Are you the complete, versatile bike rider?
“Nah, not really. I try to stick to straight roads mostly.
“My wife makes a good joke that I can’t do any riding where my handlebars turn past, like, 10 degrees. And that’s pretty accurate.
“My bike handling skills are actually… they’re not that good. They are pretty average. I can ride in a straight like pretty well…”
…and you can take the turns on a track when you reach them.
“Yep – and they’re nice wide ones. If I get on a narrow track, then I just go to crap.”
Where is your local velodrome? I don’t know anything about Nebraska except that it’s a title for a Bruce Springsteen album.
“A great Bruce Springsteen album… yeah.
“We don’t know really have a ‘local velodrome’. We’re working on getting a grass velodrome here. We live on a farm and have enough land to do it, so we’re working on getting that rolling.
“But the closest velodrome is basically the Olympic training centre in Colorado Springs. So it’s about an eight-hour drive, or so.”
Okay… and how often do you hit that?
“We usually try to get out there, maybe once a month in the off-season. But now that we have competitions, getting into World Cup season, we’ll probably go and do 10 days to two weeks before each World Cup – and that’ll kinda be our ‘camp’. It’s a fairly decentralised program here.”
And in your neighbourhood, are you out on your bike with others? Is there a training bunch? Or is it basically, you go out and riding on your own?
“There’s a group that does a few rider per week but I would say 80 or 90 percent of the time, I’m riding by myself.”
Is cycling meditation for you?
“Yeah. I don’t really think about too much when I’m riding. It’s nice, it’s a simple exercise where you go out, you enjoy the scenery, you hit the numbers that you need to hit and turn every few miles… and it’s good.”
* * * * *
“I’ll probably keep it farm boy style,” Lambie says of his facial hair. “I waxed it up today – it looks pretty good today. I think I’m having a good moustache day today.”
Becoming a bike rider…
Just go conclude, I wonder if you can give me a quick overview of how and why you are now a cyclist.
“As far as ‘why’, I would say: when I was in high school, I did cross-country and I’ve always had pretty thick legs and been a little bit more muscular. I was an absolute shit runner and I really hated it. I got shin splints really bad all the time so what I realised is that I liked the cross-training – which was cycling – I liked that aspect of it more than the running.
“So, I just decided to stick with cycling.
“My dad had a bike hanging on the wall, an old Trek road bike, so I got started on that. I did my first century ride.
“I kinda gravitated towards the ultra-distance because it had a real tangible feel to it. You could be like, ‘Oh, I went and won this cat-3 crit in a parking lot…’ like, nobody cares. It’s not that cool.
“But if you go and ride 100 miles, that’s like, ‘Wow…! That’s something.’ You know? You just rode to The Next Town.
“So, I did the ultra-distance for a long time but, again, I was kinda on the thicker side of guys who do ultra-distance. And so I thought there maybe something that I could be better suited for, that’s how I got started with track.”
I gather that it’s a view to 2020, and then you’ll take it as life deals it. Or are you sort of now thinking, ‘Okay, I’ll go to 2020 on the track and then I’m going to become a Tour de France rider….’ Or something like that? Have you got some greater vision for your cycling career?
“I would say probably the first one: aim towards 2020.
“Life is going pretty well now. We’ve got a nice house. I like the way we’re living right now, with racing gravel, riding gravel, and doing track on the side.
“We’ll see about road. I haven’t had any opportunities come up, so we’ll see what happens.”
A work in progress… it sounds like fun, it’s the way that it ought to be. Cycling takes itself too seriously a lot of the time.
“I think it does too and I try to not do that.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold