Lauren Stephens: We have a ‘really strong’ US women’s team at UCI Road World Championships

The American rider talks beating jetlag after epic trip to Australia and the growing strength of US women's cycling.

Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

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WOLLONGONG, Australia (VN) — It has been a busy period of racing and travel for Lauren Stephens and the American will have to fight through the jetlag in the women’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships on Saturday.

Stephens is midway through an epic worlds hat trick having already competed at the mountain bike marathon world champs just a week ago.

Now she’s on the other side of the planet getting ready to ride the road worlds in Australia and, before long, she’ll be on the move again as she returns to Europe for the gravel world championships at the start of October.

If all of that didn’t sound tiring enough, Stephens arrived a day late in Australia thanks to a missed connection. Following mountain bike worlds, she had to drive from Denmark to the Netherlands to catch a flight to Singapore.

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She should have been able to go straight to Sydney from there, but she had to head north to Tokyo instead and then back down to Australia. All in all, it took her almost two days to reach Wollongong and she’s had just two full days Down Under to acclimatize before the race, but she’s taking it in her stride.

“I had a teammate and Joanne Kiesanowski and she told me to sleep. Just keep sleeping don’t worry about it. If you’re tired sleep, if you’re not, don’t worry about it,” Stephens told VeloNews. “So I feel like not stressing when I wake up in the middle of the night. I know they say no phones, but I just either watch something or put a podcast on and just like stay relaxed, and just know I need to be awake and ready when it’s time to race.”

Stephens’ late arrival means that she hasn’t had much time to recon the course either. The elite riders from Team USA are staying just a block from the finishing circuit in Wollongong, so she has been able to ride around that but she hasn’t been able to see the Mount Keira climb.

“The steep climb on the circuit was a little bit longer than I realized. And I was like, ‘oh God, I’m glad I have a couple of days to wake the legs up,’” she said.

Stephens was a late addition to the elite women’s team. She was down as the second reserve but collarbone fractures to both Coryn Labecki and Krista Doebel-Hickok meant she was added to the squad earlier this month.

Labecki was meant to be one of the team’s potential contenders for a medal, but the team still has two very strong options in Veronica Ewers and Kristen Faulkner, both of whom have enjoyed standout seasons with their respective trade teams.

Despite being such a late call-up and her hectic travel period to make it to Australia, Stephens is hopeful that she can play a strong role for the team this Saturday.

“We haven’t discussed tactics, but I mean, I know especially coming in is like the ninth rider chosen it’s pretty clear what my role will be, and I also just feel that like that’s, that’s my best way to help the team is coming in as a support rider to get those riders into the finale,” she said.

“We have a really strong squad. I know a lot of people are looking toward Kristen, who just is a very powerful rider, and she can have a really strong ride on this course. We’ve also got Veronica Ewers, and this will be her first world championship.

“She just finished her first full year as a professional but has great talent, you got Leah who raced the TT also, along with Kristen, and has always shown a lot. And then I think the rest of us are there to support these riders. If by chance it comes down to a sprint, you know, I don’t expect it to, but we’ve got Skylar, who has a tremendous sprint on her.”

Stephens on US future: ‘We have a strong field of American women now’

This year, USA Cycling has been able to send a full complement of seven riders for the elite women’s road race after the nation hit the top five in the UCI’s rankings. This was in spite of some of the top U.S. riders, such as Labecki, enduring difficult seasons.

Having watched the ebbs and flows of U.S. racing and racers for the past decade, Stephens believes that the country is in a good place with the talent that is coming into the upper echelons of the sport. The recent creation of the Cynisca Cycling project by USA Cycling will hopefully see more female American riders coming through the ranks.

“I feel like we have this kind of strength across the board. We don’t have like one rider that stands out like we’ve had in the past years like when we had like Megan Guarnier and that group of riders, but we have just a really strong field of American women now,” she said. “It’s been really exciting recently to see how many more women are, are starting to come out of the U.S.

“I’ve been doing this now full time for 10 years and I think the number of U.S. riders kind of hit like a point where it just stalled out for a little bit. But seeing the work that USA Cycling is putting into bringing riders over to Europe, to give them that opportunity to see what they can do and also just show the European teams where they’re capable of. I think we’ve done a lot of movement towards like creating that opportunity for the women.”

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