In praise of Kristen Faulkner’s Strade Bianche ride

It may not have paid off, but the American's gutsy solo move deserves credit.

Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

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Amidst the drama of Team SD Worx teammates Lotte Kopecky and Demi Vollering’s sprint and the icy atmosphere that followed, Kristen Faulkner’s gutsy ride at Strade Bianche was almost forgotten about. 

Faulkner’s move from 40 km out was characteristic of the American who races aggressively and often sets out on long solo breakaways, using her time trialling talent to hold off a chasing peloton.

It was in this style that she won stage nine of last year’s Giro d’Italia Donne, and how she almost won the queen stage and overall at the Tour de Suisse were it not for an unfortunate crash in the rain on the final corner before the line. 

More recently, it was Faulkner who set the pace at the bottom of the 10 km long Jebel Hafeet climb at the UAE Tour Women causing the group to slowly dwindle in size. That time, however, Faulkner miscalculated somewhat, her tempo proving too much even for herself and she dropped back once Gaia Realini and Elisa Longo Borghini took charge of the pace. 

The 30-year-old was not originally set to race in Tuscany last weekend but was down as a reserve, and was called in last-minute fresh off a holiday in Thailand that she took post-UAE Tour. 

SIENA, ITALY – MARCH 04: (L-R) Lotte Kopecky of Belgium and Team SD Worx on second place, race winner Demi Vollering of The Netherlands and Team SD Worx and Kristen Faulkner of The United States and Team Jayco-Alula on third place pose on the podium ceremony after the Eroica – 9th Strade Bianche 2023, Women’s a 136km one day race from Siena to Siena 318m / #StradeBianche / on March 04, 2023 in Siena, Italy. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images) (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Faulkner –  who has risen dizzyingly fast to the top of the sport since turning pro in 2020 at the age of 28 – revealed that the team’s plan at the start of the day was for her to launch an attack on the San Martino in Grania sector but that in fact, a crash just before it meant that she spent the next 9 km or so chasing. 

Thinking that her chances for a result were out of the window, she launched a solo move with 40 km to go, quickly catching up to Jumbo-Visma’s Karlijn Swinkels who was already up the road. The pair worked together to build a gap of a minute and a half before Faulkner left her breakaway companion behind with 32 km to go. 

By the time she reached the sixth sector, Pieve a Salti, Faulkner had extended her lead to almost two minutes. Each time the camera panned to the American, her jersey and shorts ripped and bloodied from her earlier crash, she looked composed, controlling her effort well while the group behind attacked each other.

Once the SD Worx duo of Kopecky and Vollering got themselves organised to chase the Jayco-AlUla rider her gap began to plummet, but Faulkner went down swinging. She chipped away, maintaining her gap all the way to the bottom of the Via Santa Caterina climb but, excruciatingly, was caught with 700m to go – although not before a moment of standing her ground to Demi Vollering, who she forced into the barriers. 

SIENA, ITALY – MARCH 04: Kristen Faulkner of The United States and Team Jayco-Alula crosses the finish line during the Eroica – 9th Strade Bianche 2023, Women’s a 136km one day race from Siena to Siena 318m / #StradeBianche / on March 04, 2023 in Siena, Italy. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images) (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

“It was a bit of a hectic day, there was a crash before section five that I was caught behind so I had to spend time chasing, and then after I got back to the group again at the end of the section, I caught my breath a little bit and my role for the day was to try and follow or initiate an attack, and so I did that,” Faulkner said.  

“I attacked again and went solo and unfortunately I didn’t have the legs at the very end to take the win but it was a good day out overall and a good result for the team to finish on the podium in this iconic race.”

Having jumped over to cycling in her late twenties from a career in Silicon Valley, Faulkner has, quite literally at times, had a crash course in cycling over the past two seasons. An undeniably talented rider but also a fiercely determined one, as evidenced by her aggressive racing but also her ability to pick herself up and carry on – she finished the Tour de France Femmes covered almost head-to-toe in bandages.  

She may not be the most technically or tactically astute rider, but Faulkner has guts when it comes to making a big move, and the legs to back it up. Whether it pays off or not, her strength and determination deserve to be applauded.

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