The Cycling Champion Who Doesn’t Have to Win to Be Satisfied

Two months later at the world championships, Lambie finished ahead of Jonathan Milan of Italy and Ganna, who had relegated him to a silver medal in 2020, to win the title. Then he decided enough was enough.

He compared his thinking to debates sports fans have frequently. “It’s like, oh, who is the best individual pursuit-er in the world right now? I think however you want to slice that, I feel like I’ve got that,” Lambie said. He could have tried to hang onto the champion’s rainbow stripes for another year, but what was the point?

“I already did that. Why do I need to do it again?”

Now Lambie’s desire is to explore, a throwback to his life as a cycling shop employee who grew most of his own food and did whatever interested him, rather than what others considered important.

Last year, he competed in a series of gravel races and tried out for American Magic, the United States entry into next year’s America’s Cup sailing event. Cycling and sailing are not as different as they seem. Increasingly, the winches on racing sailboats are powered by legs, not arms, and where better than the cycling circuit to find a “meat battery,” as those crew members are sometimes called?

Lambie’s exploration has been marked by what, from the outside, looks like failure. He thought he had a 50-50 chance of making the sailing team, but was told earlier this month that others were chosen ahead of him. Spots may open later this year that he can try out for again.

And in cycling, the gravel cycling world he once dominated chewed him up and spat him out.

Last June in the Flint Hills of Kansas — it was alternatively cold, rainy, windy, sunny, hot and humid, a perfect day for masochists on bikes — Lambie competed in the 200-mile race at Unbound, the Super Bowl of gravel cycling. In 2019, he had won the 100-mile race at what would become Unbound.

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