Kristen Faulkner aiming to shine in ‘punchy’ race at road world championships

Faulkner has been spending plenty of time on her TT bike as she hopes to get worlds campaign off to a strong start.

Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

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Kristen Faulkner has high hopes for her second appearance at the road world championships in Australia later this month.

The 29-year-old made her stars and stripes debut in Flanders last year and has once again been named to the team after a standout 2022 season. With a full seven riders, the USA has been able to send one of its strongest squads in recent years with the likes of Veronica Ewers and Skylar Schneider on the lineup.

After a season that has seen her step up another level with wins at the Tour de Suisse and the Giro d’Italia Donne, plus 11th overall at the Giro, Faulkner has placed herself on the list of serious contenders in Australia. With the repeat efforts required to navigate the road race course, she believes that she can get into the mix if it comes down to a select group of riders.

“It’s a punchy enough climb. If it comes down to a selection, I think I can be in there because it’s not a long enough climb that I need to be a pure climber, but it’s short enough that like that punchy kind of rider might make it over,” Faulkner told VeloNews.

“It’s long enough to be able to drop people who can’t climb and so I’m hoping that it comes down to a selection where we have a strong enough team from the U.S., we have some good climbers in the USA.”

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There has been plenty of debate about the road race course and which kind of rider it will favor.

The peloton will have to tackle the steep climb of Mount Keira very early on, which will likely see the sprinters in the bunch get dropped, but it soon settles into a hilly circuit where some may be able to regain contact.

While the parcours will to some extent dictate who will emerge in the key selections, the way that the race is ridden will also be a major factor. Team USA initially had options for both eventualities, if it came down to a sprint or a match-up between the climbers, but that has changed with Coryn Labecki now ruled out of the competition through injury.

The U.S. team could still get a sprinter into the lineup, but a replacement for Labecki has not yet been named and, for now, the onus will be on the stronger climbers like Faulkner and Ewers to shoulder the hopes of the team.

“I think it’ll be interesting because it’s not a climber’s course, but it has like a really punchy hard climb. And so I imagine that teams will make that really, really hard. So that it’s a bit of a race of attrition,” she said. “I’m curious to see how much things come back together, because teams that have a sprinter, they’re going to do everything they can to keep it together.

“It’s just it’s one of those courses that it could go either way. There could be a selection of more climber types that get away, but then there’s enough distance in between and it’s hard to chase because it’s super steep and then super downhill. It could end up with a selection, or it could end up with a sprinter that, given the distance between the climb and the finish, could potentially come back if they have a really strong team with them. So, I don’t know. We’ll see. It’ll be fun. Maybe [Elisa] Balsamo will go to for two.”

Faulkner will be one of two riders from the U.S. elite women’s squad, along with Leah Thomas, that will contest the time trial on the opening weekend of the competition as well. Thomas was a sure-fire bet given her status as the national TT champion, while Faulkner has impressed on her time trial bike this season by winning individual tests against the clock at the Tour de Suisse and Giro d’Italia Donne.

This year’s worlds time trial will see the men and the women take on the exact same course over the same distance for the first time. Ridden entirely in Wollongong, the TT course features two laps of a twisting circuit where the next corner is never far away.

Unlike last year’s offering, there will be fewer opportunities for the big pure time trialists to lay their power down. It will be Faulkner’s first time representing the United States in the discipline and she’s been putting a lot of work into it.

“It has a lot of 90-degree turns like it’s not a straight out and back. So, it’s actually quite technical for a TT course,” Faulkner explained. “I’ve been on my TT bike a lot recently, just focusing on my cornering efforts and yeah, my core strength and things like that.”

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