USA Track Cycling Nationals showcases cyclists speed and strength in a unique way

CARSON, Calif. – Inside the Velo Sports Center is a sporting world unlike any other. Men and women race around a 250m banked track scattered with logos on aerodynamic carbon bicycles, sometimes hitting speeds up to 38 miles per hours as they battle one another for the top spot in races ranging from three kilometers to ten kilometers.

“It’s incredible,” Ashton Lambie, a track cyclist from Lawrence, Kansas, said. “In my opinion, probably the best track in the country, it’s so nice.”

As Lambie suggested, the Velo Sports Center is considered one of the première arenas to train and race in the United States, and on Thursday, the Sports Center proved to be even more special for Lambie. He captured the men’s 4k national championship title in a time of 4:33.472, a finals time that comes just a few hours after posting a 4:29 in the qualifying rounds.

The race requires cyclists to complete 16 laps around the ramped track as fast as possible, and the top four cyclists from the qualifying rounds advance to the finals. Lambie’s performance in prelims put him in elite company, according to fellow cyclist Leo Longo, and his gold medal certainly didn’t hurt his chances of moving on to the next level of cycling competition.

“I would like to think at his age, that with that kind of performance, people like USA Cycling would take note and see him as a possible candidate for, at some level, one of their programs,” Longo said. “Whether it be a world cup team member or some other team within USA Cycling, Track Cycling, I think he’s that talented.”

General view of the ADT Event Center at the Home Depot Center, the first indoor international standard velodrome in North America. (Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage)
General view of the ADT Event Center at the Home Depot Center, the first indoor international standard velodrome in North America. (Photo by Kirby Lee/WireImage)

Longo first met Lambie when the Kansas native started training in California, and he has enjoyed watching Lambie continue to develop. The athlete has grown before his eyes, Longo said, simply developing into the elite cyclist that Longo expects him to become. Longo said he anticipated that Lambie would win the final, given that he entered the race seeded three seconds ahead of his opponent, Charles Cassin.

Lambie lived up to those expectations handily.

The Kansas native was one of twelve national champions crowded on Thursday night, and Lambie said before the final that the enormity of the experience and the opportunity to race in the Velo Sports Center was beyond his comprehension.

“I don’t feel like I really process it fully,” Lambie said. “I feel like I probably don’t understand the gravity, which I think is good. I’m just like ‘yeah, that was pretty good, I felt pretty good, my legs kinda hurt now.’ I just try to be low-key about it.”

Pain is temporary, pride is forever

What exactly does a 4k race feel like?

“It is literally about shutting out the pain. That’s it,” Longo said. “You have to learn how to not think about it because if you start thinking about it, that’s when you’re going to start slowing down.”

Training for this kind of race involves heavy speed work, and athletes training in arenas like the Velo Sports Center can also use the bank of the track to help them gain speed and practice riding at a higher level than they typically do on the flat track.

Lambie said that he has traveled across the country to train and race at the Velo Sports Center and a track in Pennsylvania, but back in Kansas, he rides on a grass track without banks.

“You don’t have to be here to do these kinds of efforts,” Lambie said. “It’s more just kind of knowing what kind of training to do. You can go out on a flat piece of road and ride three and a half or four minutes as hard as you can. It doesn’t have to be a track, it’s nice if it’s a track because there are no cars, but it doesn’t have to be that.”

Lambie’s talents in cycling are wide-ranging and exceed beyond the track. He’s not only a national champion in the men’s elite 4k event, but he also holds the record for the fastest ride across the state of Kansas. He said that every state has a record, and the rides are sanctioned through the ultramarathon cycling association. In states like Rhode Island, however, riders have to go east-west-east or west-east-west to earn credit for the course, Lambie said laughing.

His record-setting performance in Kansas earned him local press recognition, but he has since switched to track racing almost entirely. And even at this level, Lambie has to make sure that his training doesn’t interfere with his work.

“I do stuff on the side, I still have rent,” Lambie said. “I work at a bike shop in Kansas, it’s great. It’s super flexible, it allows me to come do this.”

After nationals though, Lambie will head back to his bike shop and his home state with more than just additional experience in the sport. He’ll head back with a gold medal.