Amber Neben had worked two hard years toward her doctorate in physiology and biophysics at UCI when, in 2000, she found herself facing a tough decision: go for the degree, or be satisfied with a master’s and pursue cycling.

“I had to commit to one or the other. I knew I couldn’t give my all to both,” Neben says.

Anyone who follows women’s cycling knows which course Neben chose. She’s become a champion cyclist, winning the prestigious Tour de l’Aude in France May 21 for the second consecutive year. (Tour de l’Aude is one of the grand tours of women’s cycle racing; the men race in the Tour de France July 1-23.) Neben also won the individual time trial at the Pan American Cycling Championships June 2-11 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

“In my heart, I knew the right path for me was cycling,” Neben says.

Neben has always liked sports, playing competitive soccer at age 4. She ran cross country and track in high school and got a running scholarship to the University of Nebraska, but was sidelined by injuries. After arriving at UCI in 1997, she joined the campus cycling club and found the ideal vehicle for her athletic drive.

“I listened to (cycling) Coach Dave Jordaan at my first meeting and something clicked,” she says. “I decided to get serious about riding.” Jordaan helped her train to play up her greatest strength – climbing. He’s still her coach.

“Amber is a well-respected and strong character in the hard-fought arena of professional cycling,” Jordaan says. “Cycling requires a circadian rhythm that includes solo rides of five hours and intense workouts on a stationary trainer. Amber is tenacious about achieving the workout goal for every single ride she does.”

Her training schedule calls for 20- to 100-mile rides five out of seven days a week, with “core workouts” on her days off. When her schedule permits, she joins the UCI cycling club for long spin rides and grueling workouts in the local mountains. What drives her?

“I’ve got Olympic and world championship dreams,” she says. “The ultimate goal is to stand on top of the podium and listen to your national anthem being played.”

Until that happens, she’s determined to stay the course.