Instead of building form for the Olympic Games, Ashton Lambie – one of the fastest pursuit riders of all time – is in the process of riding every gravel road in his county and aiming to squat 300 pounds in the gym. RIDE Media caught up with the charismatic Nebraskan recently to find out how he is coping with the interruptions in 2020.
Remember in #TheBeforeTime, when there was bike racing and world records were being broken on the velodrome, how riders used to talk about Tokyo 2020? Seems so long ago now, doesn’t it? The Games. They’re on. This year. Etc.
Sporting clichés abound in an Olympic year. The dream. The goal. The gold. Etc.
That’s how we talked. Even at the world championships, missed opportunity was brushed off because – well, isn’t it obvious? “Because it’s an Olympic year.”
Guess what? Nah, you know the story. It didn’t happen. The Games. They’re not on. Not this year. Etc.
And so, at a time when we’d ordinarily be curious about the form of particular athletes – riders who have excelled on the world stage in the lead-up to Tokyo 2020 – we are watching avatars on screens instead.
The athletes are still training, and plenty have ‘performed’ in training (or race) spectacles that allow us to stay in touch with the idea of racing. Some, like Sam Welsford, are vlogging to help pass the time and tell stories about their interrupted routines. Others, like Ashton Lambie, are writing and challenging themselves in a far different way to how it would have been in May 2020 were it not for the pandemic.
RIDE Media spoke with Welsford about his first 200km ride on the smart trainer and he admitted: “The long ride was a good way to challenge myself during this tough time… Doing something like this, for me, is pretty big and pretty crazy.
“Hopefully,” said Welsford in April, “it can motivate others to really just test themselves, to keep setting goals, and to keep striving for things – even though there’s no racing.”
It has become a universal theme this year. Set goal. Achieve goal. But then? What’s next?
Most of us have a story to tell about something they are doing in 2020 because… well, it is a different year in so many ways. I’ve got an example: I decided to run up and down the stairs at home 100 times per day while lockdown was on. I did two weeks of that: 1,600 stairs – up and down – for 14 days. The goal was interesting… but only for so long. And I reached the same conclusion: what’s next?
Today’s other variation: wool slippers for extra comfort. pic.twitter.com/1auhz3aGJt
— RIDE Media (@ridemediaHQ) April 11, 2020
There was no point to my challenge but it provided a distraction from the news and a way to hold onto some fitness, without always resorting to the smart trainer that has become part of the furniture in our house.
For Ashton Lambie, one of those guys who stood on the podium in Berlin talking about Tokyo, the personal quest during this hiatus from ‘normal’ is to ride a lot of gravel roads and lift a heavy weight. That’s what he’s doing while waiting for racing to resume.
He too has his dreams. Some are about gold medals and world records, but that’s not the only reason he rides.
“We’ve got hundreds and hundreds of miles of gravel roads and I’ve set myself this goal of riding all the gravel roads in my county.
“There is a little over 1,400 miles, so about 2,500km, within the defined county. And so, one of the projects that I’ve set myself is to ride all of them.”
He’s an interesting character with a sense of fun, and I caught up with Lambie recently to find out more about his silver medal ride in Berlin, his rivalry with Filippo Ganna, his personal challenges in the time of COVID-19, and what he’s doing when he’s at home instead of preparing for the 2020 Games.
Q&A with Ashton Lambie
Track racing, gravel riding, indoor training in Nebraska
RIDE Media: I’ve got an opportunity to catch up with Ashton Lambie, who is a bike rider we’re getting more and more familiar with – when there’s an opportunity to race. He’s the silver medallist in the individual pursuit at the 2020 world championship (26 February-1 March 2020), which feels like a lifetime ago. Shall we start talking about that and this impressive Italian – winner of the IP, Filippo Ganna – who keeps taking times to a whole new level? What do you want to talk about?
Ashton Lambie: “It does feel like ages ago.”
RIDE Media: Remember Berlin, Ashton? Can you cast your mind back to that strange time in Germany?
Ashton Lambie: “Yeah, ’cause that was kind of like the start of the madness. I remember, we got masks to wear on the plane and that was the first sign of something being different with the world.
“It was something we didn’t really know about, something new. Who knew what could come of it? It was more like, ‘Okay, let’s just be careful if we park next to the Chinese pit…’ because, at that point, China was the only country that had a problem. It feels like ages ago man, so much has changed.”
RIDE Media: Should we talk quickly about that IP because you had a fantastic ride but, once again, Filippo Ganna turned the screws and went up another level. When is he going to go under four minutes?
Ashton Lambie: “I don’t know but I have talked to him about that. I’ll message him every now and again, or I’ll see him on Zwift.
“I think he’s got it a lot worse than I do during this lockdown period. Italy is shut down pretty tightly, so he’s been getting pretty burned out on Zwift.
“We do a lot of Netflix recommendations too. But I don’t know what he’s capable of next.
“Berlin is a reasonably quick track. And with the form he had at the worlds, if he had that in Minsk [for a World Cup in early-November 2019] or at altitude, I think he totally would have gone sub-four.
“At this point, it’s just about waiting. It’s going to be one of us that goes sub-four, for sure.
“I think there are a few guys out there who can definitely do it. So, it’ll be interesting to see who cracks it first. I’m excited.
“But it’s hard to work out when it could happen. I don’t even know what races are going to happen… European championships, maybe? (Note: the road equivalent, due to be contested 9-13 September, was formally cancelled on 3 May. For now, the track is still scheduled for 14-18 October.)
“Maybe it’ll happen if they do another World Cup before the Olympics. But I don’t know, it’s hard to guess.”RIDE Media: No one really understands when there’s going to be racing again, which is one of the reasons we’re talking – because we’re trying to find a little bit of good in the world. Tell me about how you’re managing this lockdown in rural USA. Is it different for you or are you just self-isolating again how you have done for many years: riding on your own on the country roads of Nebraska?
Ashton Lambie: “Yeah, pretty much.
“We’ve got hundreds and hundreds of miles of gravel roads and I’ve set myself this goal of riding all the gravel roads in my county.
“There is a little over 1,400 miles, so about 2,500km, within the defined county. And so, that is one of the projects I’ve set myself, to ride all of them.”
RIDE Media: So, would it be right to imagine your ride map to look like a cross-hatched scribble? What kind of form does it take?
Ashton Lambie: “Yeah, a little. The heatmap shows bright red roads right next to my house and then, as you move away, it gradually becomes a lighter shade of blue. You could imagine it.
“That’s a big challenge. After I got back from the worlds, I took a bit of a break and then I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll just get some road fitness back…’ You know, you just get so burned out after just doing track.
“But I like to keep things diverse and one of the things I’m going to try next month is reach a goal I’ve had for a long time: I’d like to be able to hit a 300-pound squat (136kg).
“As it is, I do a lot of strength and conditioning and I love it. I’ve been doing that for about three years and with racing on pause it’s given me something to aim for.
“Our new, potential date for the World Cup in Bolivia is the end of the year, so I’ve been talking to my strength coach and he’s like, ‘If you want to do the 300, now is the time!’
“And I was like, ‘Dude, let’s do it!’
“So, I’m planning on switching to more strength work and only riding two a days week and bumping gym up to maybe four to five days a week. Then I’ll see how fast I can progress to a 300-pound squat. I’m really excited for that.
“Right now, the best – my one-rep max PR – is 260.”RIDE Media: So, let’s talk a little bit about weight because I know that gym work is popular with track cyclists and other riders do a lot of pilates and that kind of stuff, but I’m interested in what you do in the gym. Let’s say that people find themselves in a bedsit and they can’t wander anywhere but they may have some things lying around that they can lift up. What would you suggest people do while they’re pacing the room waiting for the lockdown to end?
Ashton Lambie: “There is so much variety, even for just ‘standard’ exercise.
“Let’s consider push-ups. I think push-ups are a really basic exercise, everybody knows how to do a push-up. Then it’s, like, add however many reps you want… you can vary it more than that though. You can do pauses at the bottom, or a rep and a quarter – where you go all the way down, you go up a quarter, back down, and then all the way back up.
“You can do tempo variation like taking five to eight seconds to lower yourself down for a push-up.
“And the nice thing about those techniques that I have learned with my strength coach is that you can do that with anything you want.
“If your thing is air squats, just regular bodyweight squats, do one and a quarter bodyweight squats, or tempo-controlled squats, or do a bodyweight squat with pauses of five seconds at the bottom… you know what I mean? Mix it up. Liven up your workouts.
Even if you’re not using weights, there are still other ways to make bodyweight workouts a lot harder.”
RIDE Media: Look for exercise where you find it, right?
Ashton Lambie: “Exactly.”
RIDE Media: I set myself the challenge of running up and down the flight of stairs in my house 100 times every day: 16 steps, up and down… and I maintained it for about three weeks but now I’m skipping a day here and there. The carpet is starting to wear out.
Ashton Lambie: “Yeah, it probably would. I kind of have the same thing at my place, an exercise that I do just because it breaks the routine.
“I have, like, a rock-climbing hanging board on the wall above the door frame going into my kitchen. And so, pretty much every time I walk in there, I do some hanging leg raises, or I’ll do some static finger holds. Or I’ll do pull-ups – like, five pull-ups, and then it’s onwards to the fridge.
“There’s no a point to it, but I do it all the time… because it’s there.”
RIDE Media: That’s how my stair thing started. I was like, ‘I’ve gotta go upstairs to grab some socks… oh, I may as well do it 10 times.’
Ashton Lambie: “Exactly. It breaks up the day.”
RIDE Media: We’re all going a little bit stir-crazy but it’s an interesting tipping point. It seems like everyone is on an exercise buzz at the moment. In the past, someone might have been savouring a little bit of sedentary life, enjoying a little laziness… but now people are just itching to get moving again. That’s how it felt in Sydney in April 2020.
Ashton Lambie: “That’s interesting. It makes sense that people look for new challenges. There’s only so much recovering you can do. After a while on the couch, you realise: ‘Okay, I’m recovered – let’s go!’”
RIDE Media: Talk to me about the things that you’re doing when you are out on the gravel. Do you feel at that point, when you’re riding around the farmlands, that you are an elite athlete and you’re striving for a goal? Or are you just allowing your mind to wander?
Ashton Lambie: “I don’t know. Maybe I feel a little bit less like I have a goal because the Olympics are off the table… so, that’s not really a thing right now and I’m trying to find a little bit of agency with stuff that I do have control over.
“And it’s like, ‘Oh, well I do have every single one of those gravel roads out there – I can go ride every single one!’
“So, I’m trying to find goals – or challenges – that I came up with, and that I have complete control over. And that’s been a really anchoring thing for me, in a sense where it can also be quite trivial things. ‘Well, maybe I can get a haircut tomorrow…’ I don’t know because I don’t know what’s going to happen.
“At least, from a cycling perspective, I can take positive cues from the situation. And I know: I can go out and ride a gravel road tomorrow, because I want to do it, and it’s going to be open.
“So, I’m trying to rediscover that stuff and enjoy the parts of my life that I still do have control over and being thankful for that, being excited for that.
“I like coming up with projects that I’m excited about.”
RIDE Media: Acknowledge the good.
Ashton Lambie: “Yeah! I try to.”
RIDE Media: What about the future of track racing? Do you think that this strange season of quarantine and lockdown is going to change the nature of what we knew cycling to be – if we come out the other side in a remotely normal setting…?
Ashton Lambie: “I think it probably will change a little. I can’t imagine a better scenario for the UCI to change the whole World Cup schedule; I know that’s probably less on people’s minds than it was, but it might still be quite heavy on the minds of people at the UCI.
“But no, I don’t think cycling will change that much.
“As it is, track cycling doesn’t exactly draw in football-sized crowds. I’m used to riding in front of fairly minimal crowds.”
RIDE Media: Talk to me about indoor training. What’s your smart trainer and what’s your routine?
Ashton Lambie: “I’ve got a Tacx. I think it’s a Neo. Oh man, I’ve been using that a lot.
“I feel a little weird, like almost guilty sometimes. Today, for example, it was kind of windy and I had a workout that included a lot of weirdly structured intervals. And I was, like: ‘Oh man, I’ll just do it on the Tacx – I’ll just bang it out on Zwift.’
“It was two hours, not super-long, and off I went.
“Then, I was sitting there on Zwift, looking outside everyone now and then. After a while it dawned on me, ‘Man, it is gorgeous outside!’
“It’s a little like when you’re staring at your plate of food and your mum is like, ‘There are starving people that would really go for that mashed potato! You better eat your potato.’
“And the same applies to indoor cycling. ‘Yes, I will eat that potato. I’m lucky…’ and, similarly, ‘Oh, should I be riding outside now?’
“Like, I know people who would kill to be able to ride outside now.
“So, I’ll start asking myself, ‘What am I doing on Zwift!?’”
RIDE Media: So, you unclip from the pedals, you put the back wheel on, and by the time you get out the front door, it’s pouring rain and hellacious wind… is that your fate?
Ashton Lambie: “No. I just keep on tapping away inside and finish the workout and remind myself of that situation next time it’s time for weirdly structured intervals.
“But, really, I like Zwift. It’s really good training, for sure.
“It can be mind-numbing to do a four or five hour ride inside but, you know, I like watching movies.”
RIDE Media: You have a bit of personality and seem at ease with telling stories. Have you decided to do some vlogging and share some of your experiences?
Ashton Lambie: “I haven’t really gotten into vlogging, but I’ve got a couple of writing projects that I’ve been working on. Like, one I did about my trip from Glasgow to Derby (published by VeloNews), I was pretty excited about that.
“I’m doing some more longer format stuff about different adventures.
“One of the recent ones I did came about largely by accident. One of my team-mates was also in Colorado Springs; she was training for the Olympic selection camp… and she had to leave, and I was out there, camping in my truck. And that’s another project I’ve been doing – I’m building stuff for the back of my truck so that I can be able to camp out in it… you know, driving to a gravel race, camp in the back of the truck, and then go home.
“Anyway, I was in Colorado Springs, in my truck, and she didn’t want to fly because of the danger of COVID-19. So, I was like, ‘Well, let’s take my truck… there’s quite a bit of room, we can take the bikes and stuff.’
“So, we did this weird, kinda Mad Max dystopian road trip across the country, from Colorado to LA. It was bizarre.
“We went to some places where you wouldn’t have even known that there was this crazy virus going around. And then, in other places, there were grocery stores in full lockdown.
“It was a really interesting trip.”
RIDE Media: And that adventure would not have happened were it not for COVID-19. So, if nothing else, people are getting to see things in a different light. The reality is that everyone is going to come out the other side of this a little bit of a different person.
Ashton Lambie: “For sure. And just because there are positives about it, that doesn’t mean that the whole situation doesn’t suck. Sometimes that’s just it man: it just sucks!”
– Interview by Rob Arnold