2022 US Pro Lauren Stephens Profile
National Championships

Road Race National Champion Lauren Stephens Returns To Knoxville

By: Jim Rutberg  June 14, 2022

After a crash at Unbound, Stephens may not be in the best position to win, but she's hoping to keep the jersey with the EF Education-TIBCO-SVB team.

Anyone racing the 2021 Road Race National Champion Lauren Stephens should know, she’s going to make your day as difficult as possible. Her ability to outlast and overpower the field is a competitive advantage she’s used to excel throughout her 10-year professional cycling career. A member of the powerful EF Education-TIBCO-SVB team, which stepped up to the UCI Women’s World Tour level in 2022, Stephens is one of the favorites for the upcoming 2022 US Pro National Championships on June 23-26 in Knoxville, Tennessee.

2022 Nationals Preparation

Stephens’ preparation for the 2022 National Championships hasn’t been without challenges. Already a two-time champion of the 100-mile competition at Unbound Gravel, she decided to step up to the 200-mile distance for 2022.

In 2021, Stephens credited the 100-mile Unbound Gravel race as a key tune-up prior to Pro Road National Championships. Doubling the distance in 2022 raised some concern regarding her ability to recover in time for Nationals. However, those concerns were mitigated a bit by the fact Unbound and Nationals are separated by about three weeks this year, as opposed to two weeks last year.

Unfortunately, after gearing up for the longest race she’d ever attempted, Stephens crashed hard in the opening miles of Unbound Gravel and withdrew at the first checkpoint. Instead of a trophy, she left Emporia, Kansas, with stitches in her forearm and hip. Speaking a few days after Unbound, she noted, “Leading into Unbound I was already nervous about the recovery from the event and the volume, but I was encouraged by the extra week between Unbound and Nationals. I hadn’t anticipated recovering from such a hard crash. Right now, I’m just riding a city bike with flat pedals, but hopefully in a few days it’ll be better.”

Echoes of Spring 2021

If she goes on to a repeat victory at Pro Road National Championships, it won’t be the first time she overcame adversity to win. In 2021 she returned from a block of European racing with some hip and knee pain. “When I got home from that trip, I didn’t touch my bike for a week and I was saying things like, ‘I never want to do a full-gas effort ever again in my life’. A few weeks later I went and won Unbound 100, but I had only been doing endurance rides and not really any specific training. I didn’t feel like my body was ready to handle two high intensity events, the time trial and road race, back-to-back at National Championships.” Listening to her body and trusting her instincts turned out to be the right choices and she powered to a solo victory in Knoxville to claim her first US Pro Road Race National title.

Stephens intends to ride both the Time Trial and Road Race at the 2022 US Pro National Championships. However, she acknowledged that the stitches in her forearm and hip are problematic for training on her time trial bike.

The Keys to Success in Knoxville

“If you look at most of the years we’ve raced in Knoxville, the race has been won by a solo rider. It’s definitely a race of attrition, and that steep hill wears people down,” Stephens commented. In addition to the Sherrod Road climb Stephens alluded to, riders must also contend with Knoxville’s characteristic heat and humidity.

Stephens credits her team’s strength and depth for putting her in a position to win in 2021.

“We went in with the focus of, ‘How to we make this race as hard as possible?’ We didn’t go in with the plan for me to win. We went in with the plan for someone on the team to win. To do that we had to make the race hard, and that’s what we did.”

When asked about her ambitions for this year, Stephens stated, “Of course I’d love to win it again, but if we can keep the National Championship within the team, that’s also a success.”

The Benefits of Experience and Support

Women’s professional cycling has changed a great deal during Lauren Stephens’ career. “When I started out, I didn’t even know there was women’s professional cycling. I was just cycling as a hobby and didn’t realize you needed to contact teams directly. One thing I tell young women is that, if you want to be a professional cyclist you have to tell people. Reach out and don’t be afraid to self-advocate and promote yourself.”

Stephens has spent the most of her career racing on Team TIBCO. The current iteration of the team, EF Education-TIBCO-SVB, moved from Pro Continental status to the UCI Women’s World Tour. Stephens says the biggest difference is the increased budget that subsequently increased the resources available to help athletes perform at their best. “I had gotten used to how things were,” she said. “You had to make things work with what you had. So, it’s been a little difficult for me to have so many more people involved, but I see how great it is for the future of women’s cycling. We have quite a few first-year professional riders, and it’s great to see everyone treated so professionally during their first experience in pro cycling.”

As she prepares to defend her Pro Road National Championship, Stephens recalled a favorite memory from her year in the Stars-and-Stripes jersey. “After I won in 2021, I went straight to Europe to race La Course in France and the Giro Donne in Italy. When I finally came home weeks later, my friends and family had decorated the front of my house, and the next night they threw me a surprise party. Friends I’ve made through the past 15 years of riding came to celebrate, some who I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was wonderful to see how much joy it brought to all of us.”