Interview with Amber Gaffney (Optum pb Kelly Benefit Strategies) caught up with Amber Gaffney, who will be making her professional debut riding with the Optum pb Kelly Benefit Strategies Team in 2013.

Since I share the same hometown, I met up with Amber and her Optum pb Kelly Benefit Strategies teammate Leah Kirchmann, who recently won the Optum / Tucson Medical Center Old Pueblo Grand Prix and Tucson Bicycle Classic,  to catch up and for a photo shoot in the Claremont Colleges and Claremont foothills. After talking with Amber and Leah, I learned that both riders are very excited for the 2013 season and are looking forward to the upcoming San Dimas Stage Race, which takes place this week.

Amber, who is currently in Graduate School at the Claremont Colleges and teaches during the semester, tells us about her new Team and cycling goals in our interview with her.  How did you get into cycling and how long have you been riding for?

Amber Gaffney: I got into cycling by commuting on my old mountain bike. When I started graduate school, I started using cycling as a stress release (no time to stress over your thesis when you are pedaling up Mt. Baldy!) My first road bike was my gift for getting my M.A. I promptly signed up for three century rides that had lots of climbing – I loved them! I live in an area with a lot of active local bike racers that took me in and convinced me to race (the guys from the Back Abbey and Dominic of InCycle and Lea of SC Velo). My first race was April 2011 – Devil’s Punchbowl. I was hooked.

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Photos ©  Christy Nicholson /  Did you compete in another sport before cycling?

Amber Gaffney: I’ve played sports most of my life. I used to play basketball, volleyball, run track, and a little softball – to be fair, I was really only good at running the bases in softball, because I liked to run. After high school, I opted to not play sports in college in favor of work and school. When I realized I wanted to get back in shape, I took up distance running and developed a love for endurance sports (I especially liked marathon distance and trail running).  You are currently in Graduate School at the Claremont Colleges and teaching during the semester, tell us a little about both and how you manage to fit in your training with such a busy schedule.

Amber Gaffney: First, I am very, very lucky! I have a very supportive advisor who appreciates both my cycling and my research and I have a very supportive husband who helps me to manage my schedule. I like the balance of academics and cycling and my schedule is pretty flexible. I get up very early, work a bit, ride, and work for the rest of the afternoon. I’m finished with course work and doing my own research and finishing my dissertation, which means that I have to be self-motivated to not ride my bike all day and actually work on my research!  You will be riding for the Optum pb Kbs Team in 2013, how did this opportunity come about?

Amber Gaffney: I’m a lucky lady! I think this came about through a combination of results from local races last season and by having an introduction to our director, Rachel. I think the biggest component was fit – having a personality that fit with the team is really important. It became clear right away that we are a team of staff and riders who are all willing to work our tails off for every single person on our team.  The Optum pb Kbs team recently had their training camp in Southern California, tell us about the camp and training that you did.

Amber Gaffney: Camp was so fun! We stayed in houses on the beach in Ventura and did morning core work outs and yoga on the beach. We had team meals and meetings and even did some bowling. In addition, we had a great bike demo from our wonderful mechanic, Mike. We also got to ride together, which was fantastic. We did long days, sprint days, etc., but most importantly, we rode as a team and got to know one another.  What are the major races that you will be doing this year?

Amber Gaffney: Major for me is San Dimas, because it is my backyard! After that, I have Redlands and Joe Martin. We will be doing Cascade, Nature Valley Grand Prix (a big one for us), Gatineau, and Elk Grove. I hope to do Nationals and we are really hoping to do Worlds Team Time Trial in Italy.  Which events would you like to do well in for yourself and what are your goals for the season?

Amber Gaffney: It would be nice to do well in our hometown races (San Dimas and Redlands) and I’d love to put in some solid Time Trials and races at Cascade and Nationals. To be quite honest, a team win is a personal win and as long as I have a job in a race and I perform it well, finish tired and we get the results we want, I am overjoyed! My goals in cycling since my first race are the same as they are today – work hard and have fun. If I manage to do both of those things, I will continue to grow as a cyclist.  You recently raced with your new team at the Merco Credit Union Classic and National Criterium Calendar event Optum / Tucson Medical Classic Old Pueblo Grand Prix, how did that go?

Amber Gaffney: Both went really well. It is really nice to go out to a race with a specific goal and a plan to get there and to know we can achieve our goals through multiple options. We worked really well as a team in both events and it paid off. I had so much fun at each event and I was tired after both, so goals attained.  What are the differences that you have noticed so far from riding on a smaller team to racing on one of the top domestic Women’s Pro Teams?

Amber Gaffney: The level of support from all of the staff is incredible – director, mechanic, soigneur – they really make what we do on the course possible. At the local level we certainly had people behind us supporting us – much of this hard work is from dedicated people who volunteer their free time to see women’s cycling grow. The support that we get racing for Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies (from staff to sponsorship) allows us to focus solely on winning bike races.  What are your long-term goals in cycling?

Amber Gaffney: My first goal in cycling is to have fun. As long it is fun, I’ll take cycling as far my body and mind will allow. I’m also excited to spend more time on the track and gain more experience with track endurance events. There is a lot to learn about cycling and I’m excited to try new things and see where it takes me.  What are your favorite rides to do and do you like to train alone or with someone?

Amber Gaffney: My favorite ride is GMR-Baldy Lifts. I love this ride on early mornings without the presence of other humans (wild life is welcome!) My other favorite training day is Wednesday where I get to meet up with two small group rides. I meet the early group for a two-hour ride and then I meet-up with the 9 am group and put in another four hours. This is a great day because we cover a lot of beautiful areas in the San Gabriel Foothills and I enjoy the company. If I’m home on the weekends, I’ll jump in on one of the local group rides or do a recovery ride with my husband. I have to admit that other than the Wednesday ride and an occasional weekend group ride, I spend a lot of time by myself on the bike!  What riders influenced you to race and who has been instrumental in your success?

Amber Gaffney: This could be a very, very long response! My husband, Jacob tops this list. He does not race but attends almost every one of my races, organizes my race schedule, does bike maintenance for me, and is my biggest cheerleader (other than my mom). There is no way I could get through graduate school and race my bike without his support. There are so many local cyclists who convinced me to come out and ride and race including some of the local Back Abbey guys, the crew at InCycle Chino and Lea who gave me my first spot on an elite team. My teammates from 2012 were an amazing resource of knowledge and race strategy. Through this team, I made some great friends and also learned a great deal. Dotsie Bausch has an incredible passion and has such enthusiasm for helping people. She has been a huge source of inspiration, given that she is incredibly generous with her time and wisdom and is herself one of the great women cyclists whom we all look up to. Seriously, this list could go on- I am very lucky to be surrounded by so many great people who have built me up, including competitors. We all race to win, but there are so many experienced women out there who also work to build up the sport and the next generation of racers and have encouraged me to continue in bike racing. In SoCal, we are very lucky to get to race with some women who have raced at the highest levels of cycling and race locally, sharing their wisdom with us.  What would you like to see to improve in women’s cycling to get more women into racing?

Amber Gaffney: I wish that I could say something simple such as: “we need to get more sponsors for women’s racing” or “create a concentrated effort to target more women to race”, but I think that both of these “solutions” are part of reciprocal process that affects women in sports and more generally women seeking to enter any domain that is perceived as stereotypically masculine. As women, we need to take our sport and ourselves seriously – at this point we need to first and foremost show up and race our bikes.  Thanks for your time Amber and best of luck this season!

Photos & Interview by Christy Nicholson / &



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