With a stage win in the 2008 Tour de Gila under her belt….and currently riding in the Tour de l’Aude with the USA National team, we thought it would be a great time to re-visit a fierce competitor and talented rider, who is also one of the nicest members of the peloton…Amber Rais of Team TIBCO.
Rais left Webcor Builders at the end of 2007 to join her coach, DS Linda Jackson, and Team TIBCO. “I was with Webcor for two years. I have never been on any other team. I felt like it was time for something new. Webcor was great but I am really excited about the riders on Team TIBCO. I feel there are riders on TIBCO invested in riding for TIBCO’s future. That’s really important to me.”
“I am viewing 2008 as more of a diesel engine type season. It’s taking a little while for me to get going this season,” commented Rais at Sea Otter this April, “but once I do, watch out.” Rais broke a rib during a training ride prior to the Sea Otter Classic race. After riding Tour de l’Aude, she is planning on racing the Triple Crown, Nature Valley, and many of the late season races. “I love riding for my coach. It’s been awesome. It’s like the stars have aligned for me this year. It’s going to be a good season.”
Rais entered cycling late. She earned an athletic scholarship to attend Stanford and compete on Stanford’s Swim Team, “I worked really hard for swimming and academics combined,” Rais said. “I swam there for three years but had to have shoulder surgery and stopped swimming. It was also becoming too much with school and everything else. After I stopped swimming I wanted to stay fit but I had burned out on swimming and didn’t set foot on a pool deck,” Rais continued. “I didn’t want to be competitive either. I would have been happy not participating in competitive sport ever again.”
Rais then moved to Monterey California to work on a research project at the Hopkins Marine Station. “I went down there and fell in love with marine biology,” Rais said. “I concentrated my studies on marine biology and environmental policies when I discovered the Earth Systems program that offered interdisciplinary courses based on environmental sciences, economics and sociology that impact the environment. I then graduated with a Masters of Science in Oceanography through the Earth Systems program at Stanford.”
She began riding while living in Monterey. “I rode around Monterey up and down 17-mile drive,” Rais stated. “I had some friends into mountain biking. I tried a Stanford collegiate mountain bike race and enjoyed it. When the road season started I wanted to try collegiate racing. I didn’t want to train because I didn’t want expectations or pressure of competition. I rode once or twice a week and raced on the weekend.”
It is no surprise that Rais took to racing. “The turning point was watching the men’s criterium (in 2004) because it was raining and dark. I couldn’t believe how fast they were going and how fearless they were. I turned to my teammate and said, ‘I want to get good.’ I was missing being competitive so, the next season I started training in November for the up coming road season. I rode on group rides and began training longer hours.” She went on to win the collegiate national championships criterium and omnium in 2005 and placed fourth in the road race.
Webcor-Platinum offered Rais a professional contract in 2006. She had a rough start to the 2006 season after crashing and breaking her wrist in the Redlands Classic. She did recover and continued to race. She had two NRC podium finishes (Mt Hood Stage 2 and Nevada City Classic), two NRC stage wins (Cascade Cycling Classic and Bermuda GP Gibbs Lighthouse Challenge), seven USCF wins, the California Cup Series Omnium Title, and third overall for the Women’s Prestige Series Best Young Rider competition. With a successful 2006 Rais resigned with Webcor Builders Cycling Team.
Rais describes herself as an all-around rider and she enjoys riding for her teammates. “I want to be a stronger and more effective domestique so that I can fill in where ever I’m needed. I can endure an enormous amount of pain if it is for my team, because I find it incredibly rewarding to sacrifice myself for my teammates.”
Rais began 2007 with an impressive podium finish at the Quad Knopf Sequoia Classic. She continued her great riding throughout the spring and landed on the top step at stages 1, 2, and 4 of the Tri-Peaks Challenge Stage Race.
She finished Tri-Peaks as the GC leader. “We had a blast racing with no radios, and our results just go to show how well we race together as a team. As soon as I took the lead on stage 1 Rachel (Heal) and Katheryn (Curi) committed themselves to keeping the lead and taking the win,” Rais stated. “For me this was a breakthrough race. I limited my thoughts to just one – win the bike race. This focus translated to the best race of my life. I won stages 1, 2, and 4 and thanks in large part to the tireless and selfless work of my teammates, I won the GC.”
Unfortunately for Rais the Tour of Montreal was not as rewarding for her. “I finished stage 1 after chewing my handlebars to stay connected to the main field for the whole race. I had nothing. My legs simply would not respond when I pushed. I was absolutely cooked. I had just finished three stage races in a row; Gila, Joe Martin and Tri Peaks, and had clearly not recovered from the block of racing. I had a choice, keep racing and dig an even deeper hole, or drop out immediately to begin a much needed period of rest. After the tour I flew back home to California to rest up before Nature Valley”
“The Nature Valley Grand Prix is near to my heart. It is the first stage race I have ever done. I had raced solo in 2005 after winning the collegiate nationals and it was the first time I had sought guidance from Linda Jackson (Rais’ personal coach). At the time she barely knew me but believed in me. She gave me her phone number to call for support and advice, guiding me through the whole race a day at a time. I fell in love with stage racing.”
Rais has always set her goals high. “My big picture goals are to be a top international stage racer,” Rais said. “I want to get to Europe and be a stage racer there. I eventually want to medal at the world championships and Olympics.”
She has already attained one of her goals – racing in Europe as part of the National team at the end of summer in 2007 and is currently racing in Europe as part of the 2008 National team. She raced in La Route de France Feminine and Albdtadt Frauenetapperennen (Albstadt Women’s Stage Race) in Germany.
In La Route, Rais continued to ride and support her teammates despite suffering from a rather nasty strep throat. With antibiotics in hand she continued. “If you are a domestique, as I was, your job is to do the work necessary to maintain control of the race and allow your team leader to conserve energy for the decisive time trials or climbing stages. I did my best to help where possible, for the most part willing myself beyond the waning strength in my body just to stay with the peloton.” Rais stated. “By the end of the week, as the illness began to subside and strength began to return to my wasted legs, ‘giving everything’ began to mean more than hanging in by the skin of my teeth to race another day. I was finally able to seriously contribute, pulling through our echelon at the front, setting tempo between QOM sprints, and jumping after attacks. These triumphs might seem small, but it was such a good feeling to be making a difference again, to be racing and adding to the team effort.”
Rais found another level of love for racing while in Europe. “I loved every minute of it – the yelling and chatter in languages I didn’t understand, the small triumphs of helping where I could and finishing each stage, the roundabouts and road furniture, the aggression in the peloton and the crowds in every town. I loved discovering a new level of suffering, and with it, a new depth to my will. At the end of each stage, when I could barely walk or breathe, I would think to myself: this is heaven.”
“I really enjoyed racing for Amber Neben. She was a phenomenal team captain, a great mentor and leader. It was a great feeling. It was exciting for me because it was my first race in Europe. I really wanted to contribute a lot.” The Americans won the Yellow Jersey and overall Team Classification at La Route in 2007.
In Rais’ free time, she combines her love for riding with her conservation passion by offering guidance and assistance to athletic teams and fellow athletes. She has developed Carbon Neutral Action Plans, plans that can make a team carbon neutral by providing emission reducing practices and has also created Recycling Action Plans, enabling a team to reduce their waste by creating an active recycling program. She created Elemental Action (http://www.elementalaction.com) to assist fellow athletes to enact positive change.
“One of the things I am passionate about is the environment,” stated Rais, “I did alot of work for Webcor last year, bringing up their green practices, and I am doing the same for TIBCO. Every team could benefit from this. I am hoping to make positive changes.”
Photos courtesy of Team Tibco