Lauren Stephens has had mixed fortunes this year but her fortunes made a turn for the better in recent weeks, with the American signing a new contract with the US-based Continental team Cynisca and winning the stars and stripes jersey in gravel racing.
Stephens’ long-time road team met its end after Silicon Valley Bank failed, TIBCO ended its sponsorship and EF Education moved to the new women’s team owned by the same parent company as the men’s WorldTour team. Stephens wasn’t among the riders snatched up despite her still being at the top of her game at the age of 36, leaving her searching for a team in August. It was poor timing for a rider with ambitions of making the USA’s team for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The silver lining until now has been her foray into gravel racing. She won the ‘Gravel Worlds’ (unofficial) and the inaugural USA Cycling Gravel National Championships in quick succession and, thanks to her victory in the latter, pocketed a cool $12,000 and a full ride to the UCI Gravel World Championships, which take place on Saturday in Veneto, Italy.
“That was a huge motivation when they announced that,” Stephens tells Cyclingnews of the federation’s support for Worlds. Last year, she paid her own way and she and her partner provided mechanical support for each other. This year, she’ll have soigneurs, mechanics, and travel costs covered.
“I had my husband there with me last year, but then he was racing the next day. So he was having to sacrifice – he was there helping Emily Newsom and me, taking care of us, then overnight we had to switch places, We’ll still both be there and be there helping each other, but we’ll have more people around so I’m not fully having to think about everything.
The support takes care of a lot of logistical headaches, freeing riders up to focus on the race. “With the gravel, I don’t know which tires I’m going to run if I’m going to need more sealant or something else in case something goes wrong – it’s a lot of stuff to pack. Knowing that you’ve got a team of support there is really nice. And they’ve actually opened up the support to all the riders on the team, and that’s great.”
The cash came at a welcome time as Stephens fields calls trying to ink a contract for the 2024 road season. Women rarely get a five-figure prize and it’s even rarer at a national championship.
“We don’t even have prize money at road national championships! Pre-COVID we had like a small amount of prize money for nationals, but we haven’t had any…