Panama City.- The 37th Pan American road cycling championship opened this April 18 for the first time in Central America. But one of the most iconic figures of the contest since her first gold medal in 2006, the American Amber Neben, arrived smiling and ready to continue making history for her at her 48th birthday, on February 15.
It is said easy, but pedaling at that age and especially after almost 30 years of her first Grand Prix in this world of cranks and pedals has to have a dose of motivation and love for the sport that borders on godliness. Neben assumes it with simplicity, taking photos with everyone, sharing conversations with those who ask her for an autograph and as if that were not enough of hers, today she won her fourth Pan American crown in her favorite specialty: the individual time trial.
The Panamanian sun did not seem to punish her, nor did the harsh wind and the steep slopes of the 12.8-kilometer circuit, which she had to do a couple of laps. The final time was 35 minutes and 10 seconds, unbeatable for the Chilean Aranza Villalón (36:35) and the Canadian Alison Jackson (37:22). Already on the podium she put her hand on her chest, took the bouquet of flowers, smiled happier than ever and when she got off she only said: “one of the happiest days of my sports career.”
And that’s when one wonders how to have such a great motivation and incidentally be as ordinary as any other rider. Her 48 kilogram weight fits into her 1.60 height with fewer pounds than she appears. It does not boast of its two world titles (2009 and 2016), nor of its fifth Olympic place in Tokyo 2020 nor of the four continental golds (2006, 2012, 2018 and 2023), a record for the event, where it was also silver (2010). and bronze (2011).
With this morning’s title, he broke the historic embrace he had with another outstanding in this test, the Colombian Paola Madriñán, three-time champion (2004, 2008 and 2010), subtitle in 2002 and third in 2005, who has already retired from active sport and surely he would have congratulated her as the 32 participants in the test did.
The American (11), Colombian (5), Mexican (3), Canadian (2) and one per capita runners from El Salvador (Maureen Kaila Vergara), Cuba (Marlies Mejías) and Venezuela (Lilibeth Chacón) are the only ones who have been able to enjoy titles in the women’s section. By the way, Maureen was the first in 1997; while Cuba adds, in addition to the title of Marlies, two silvers and five bronzes with Yuliet Rodríguez as the maximum exponent with a trio of bronzed.
The history of the Pan American time trial (f) has a name: Amber Neben. We won’t see her run on the route, but this afternoon, when I got out of the elevator, I was able to give her a gift in my primary English: Congratulations. To which she replied in unknown Spanish: Thank you, Cuba! And we both smile.