Who is Ashton Lambie? What if I said that he is the cycling’s equivalent to Roger Bannister? Still don’t know? Well, on May 6, 1954, Bannister – a British post-graduate medical student – became the first man in history to run the mile in less than 4 minutes, an achievement that at the time ranked with some of the greatest athletic performances in history.
Ashton Lambie, a 30-year-old American rider, also broke a 4-minute barrier but in track cycling’s 4,000-meter individual pursuit. His time of 3:59.930 was achieved on August 18 at the velodrome in Aguascalientes, Mexico, where he had broken the record for the 4,000-meter individual pursuit on August 31, 2018. He broke the record two more times at the velodrome in Cochabamba, Bolivia, on September 6, 2019.
The record he broke in his latest ride belonged to ITT world champion Filippo Ganna at 4:01.934. Lambie was 2 seconds faster than Ganna who is considered by many the fastest rider in the world. As had been the case for the 4-minute mile, riding the 4,000-meter individual pursuit in under 4 minutes had been thought impossible. However, while Bannister was feted around the world for his feat, Lambie’s achievement went largely unnoticed – except by track cycling aficionados. Fortunately, his milestone ride was filmed by his partner, 11-time national track champion Christina Birch, and posted by his sponsor Zipp Speed on Instagram live. But, again: who is Ashton Lambie?
Well, he has been called “the most interesting bike racer in America”. A native of the state of Nebraska, Lambie started out in radonneuring, a type of long-distance cycling, and gravel racing, before moving onto the track. In 2015, he briefly held the record for the fastest ride across the state of Kansas: 400 miles in 23 hours and 53 minutes. He then came to peoples’ attention when he broke the Individual Pursuit world record at the Pan American Track Cycling Championships in 2018, just two years after starting racing on the track.
Lambie started out track racing by riding on what could be the only certified grass velodrome in America, a 333-meter track mowed into a pasture in Lawrence, Kansas. The two bumpy dirt lanes were perfect for a gravel rider moving to the track. “On Lambie’s first night out there, he asked me about the rules,” track racer Pat Schlager said. “Then he asked to borrow my track bike, and blew everyone away.” To ride across the state of Kansas and to ride 4,000 meters on the track in under 4 minutes requires great stamina and mental strength. According to Lambie’s coach, Ben Sharp, he has both – in spades. “One of his talents is the ability to endure,” Sharp said.
“Whether it’s short term or long term over a 30-hour effort, he has this numbing ability to disregard the pain he’s in or just to embrace it and go with it.” Sharp said that he tried to crack Lambie last summer by putting him through a special series of tough workouts to find his breaking point. He didn’t find it. “I just wanted to find out if he even had a mental limit,” he says. “I had to relent before he did.”