When you mix venture capitalism, Harvard crew experience, and professional cycling together, you get the incredible Kristen Faulkner! This week in the Lockdown Lowdown, we highlight Faulker's life, work, and rise to the professional ranks with TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank. Also, Erica Clevenger shares her tips on how to be safe while riding solo. Enjoy!
Rider Spotlight: Kristen Faulkner
Growing up in Alaska, the bike became a source of independence and freedom for Kristen Faulkner. In the summer months, she'd ride from six a.m. swim practice to work at her parents' hotel until she left to attend Phillips Academy Andover in Massachusetts. An avid rower, Harvard recruited Faulkner for crew where she went on to graduate with a degree in computer science. It wasn't until her venture capitalist job brought Faulkner to New York City that she not only rediscovered her love for riding but found out she had a knack for it.
"I learned what cycling was all about after attending a women's beginner session at Central Park in 2017," Faulkner said. "Everything from clipping into pedals to bib shorts. At the end of the session, a woman came up to me and said I should try out for a team, and I said, 'what's a team?' I didn't know there were teams in cycling. But once I found out, I was immediately drawn to the sport. It was everything I was looking for."
"I fell in love with cycling from the beginning. I don't know if it's a competitive thing or a goal-oriented thing. I heard the Evie Stephens story and thought, 'that could be me someday.'"
Faulkner raced locally in New York until her job required a move to the San Francisco area in 2018. She continued to train in the new environment, encouraged by the vibrant local road scene.
In her first race season in California, Faulkner attended the 2019 Chico Stage Race and, despite having never raced on a time trial bike before, finished fourth overall behind three Twenty20 riders. From there, she traveled solo to Cascade Classic in Bend, Oregon, and impressively picked up a few top tens.
Word of mouth spread throughout the Bay Area cycling community of Faulkner's abilities, which soon turned into an opportunity to race with Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank.
At just 27 years old, most marvel at how Faulkner can juggle a full-time job at a venture capitalist firm with unpredictable hours as well as train at the top level. Faulkner says it's not easy, but having open communication with her job and team is key to making it all happen.
"In high school and college, I balanced being a varsity athlete with a rigorous course load. I majored in computer science. When it comes to work/cycling balance, the truth is that juggling work, sports, and personal goals in parallel is all I've ever known."
Coronavirus has postponed her professional 2020 road debut, however, in late February, she handily battled experienced gravel riders and won the Super Sweetwater round of the Grasshopper Adventure Series by 20 minutes ahead of Moriah Wilson and Alison Tetrick. A few weeks later, she went on to take third place at the 160km Mid South Gravel Race, riding a new Cannondale Slate gravel bike for the first time. Pro mountain biker Hannah Finchamp took the win and pro cyclocross rider Amanda Nauman finished second.
Most recently, Faulkner raced her first virtual competition with Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank, the Zwift Tour for All, and claimed fifth on stage 2 after a long solo attack.
"I was nervous before the Tour For All," Faulkner said. "I had been training for years to compete in my first pro race, and I didn't know if I would get dropped right away. I felt that all my years of hard work were going to be tested for the first time. When I finished fifth in Stage 2, I felt reassured that I belonged in the race. Even though Zwift is different from real life, the Tour For All gave me the confidence boost I needed.
"The race also showed me how valuable my teammates and director are, as I leaned on them for guidance and support throughout the race. They cued me to make moves and take risks I otherwise wouldn't have. I realized after Stage 2 that I raced it entirely in a fixed gear because I was new to Zwift. That's an example of how much I still have left to learn, and I am immensely grateful to have teammates and coaches from whom I can learn."
Despite the lockdown, Faulkner has never questioned her long term goals, but has hit reset on her short term objectives. She's taking this time to broaden her identity through cooking, reconnecting with friends, and letting in parts of her life she didn't believe she had time to do before.
"I don't wake up every day 100 percent as motivated as I was before COVID-19," Faulkner said. "Some days I do, some days I don't, and that's okay. I've learned that it's essential during this time to let myself have good and bad days. During the regular season, I put pressure on myself to hit my numbers perfectly 100 percent of the time. That's unreasonable during normal times, and it's especially unreasonable now. If this quarantine has taught me one thing, it's that it's okay to be imperfect, unmotivated, and take a break sometimes."
Seven tips for Solo Road Riding
by Erica Clevenger
The life of a pro cyclist often involves a lot of solo ride hours. Sometimes I ride solo because it's tough to work in time with others around my schedule. Sometimes it's a lack of availability of group rides or the need to complete specific workouts. Whatever the reason, most pros will tell you that they spend a lot of time riding on their own.
In this time of COVID-19, we are required to keep social distancing for the safety of ourselves and others. Even if in the near future, when restrictions are lifted, we can still expect some form of social distancing to stick around. So whether you are new to riding big miles on your own, or finding yourself with some extra time and wanting to take up cycling, here are some tips from the pros!
1. Ride early
This is one of my most valuable tools for riding safely on my own. I know not everyone is a morning person, but to me, it makes a big difference to get out before everyone else. The earlier, the better. Why? It's mostly about being on the road when there is less traffic. Getting out early means that I can get out of town and away from busy streets before the morning traffic.
2. Know your route
This is another critical aspect of riding solo. Know your route and plan ahead! Riding as many miles as we do, pro cyclists tend to want to explore new roads. Knowing your route will also help you determine how much food and water to bring for yourself or where you might need to stop and refuel. No one wants to be bonked out there crawling home on a busy street where the speed of traffic is high, and you are barely moving.
I like to use Strava heatmaps. Strava global heatmaps show you where people tend to ride a lot (areas that are "hot"). People usually ride in areas that are conducive to cycling, so it is a good place to start. If you are planning on riding a known and popular route, you can always do a web search to help you determine if there are any changes or construction along that route. There are numerous tools to help with this. I tend to use Strava, but you can also use Map My Ride, or Garmin Connect, to name a couple.
3. Bring fuel
In trying to avoid coming into contact with too many people, it is important to bring enough fuel for your planned route to minimize stops. This will also help keep your ride efficient! For shorter rides, you might just need a gel or two, while if you're out for a long day, I would recommend some "real" food like a muffin, a PB+J, or a bar. Our ride food of choice is SIS. I also find it really important to stay hydrated with electrolyte mixes.
4. Bring a flat kit
If you are going to be riding on your own (or even in a group for that matter) it is essential to bring a flat kit. You need: CO2 cartridge and nozzle (or a small handheld pump), spare tube(s), tire levers, and a multitool. Some people will just stick a flat kit in their pocket, but for those of us on the smaller side with pockets that can't handle all the necessities, I recommend a saddle bag that never leaves your bike! We use Arundel saddle bags, which are minimal and don't leave your bike looking too bulky. They also have waterproof bags!
5. Be visible
I am game for anything that will give me even a little more assurance of being safe on the road. Plus, bright colors are in and I think they look pretty cool. Our kits this year from Voler have a bit of bright green/yellow on them, which I love. Placement does matter too. It's great to have a brightly colored helmet as that is what is closest to eye level for most drivers. Parts that are moving make a difference as well. During the winter I like to use my bright yellow shoe covers, my fiancé says that you can see those babies cranking from a mile away! Finally, I do personally believe that bike lights make a difference, especially if they're flashing. You need good/bright lights to be seen during the day, at dusk/dawn and at night. My favorite lights are made by Knog.
6. Know your limits
This is not the time to be pushing yourself past what you think you are capable of! The last thing our healthcare providers need right now are patients that were otherwise perfectly healthy but put themselves in a situation to get hurt. Things happen, we all make mistakes, and as athletes, we always want to test our limits. But now is not the time and the open road is not the place. Consider pushing your power limits in a Zwift race instead!
7. Tell someone where you will be
Finally, when you are riding solo, it's important to let someone know where you are going. In a worst case scenario, you want someone to know where to look for you! There are some apps that can help with this too. Garmin, for example, has an activity tracker that will send updates of your whereabouts to loved ones.
The last one is more of an admission than a tip. We all know that doing lots of hours out there on your own can get a little boring. There are certainly those who can just go out on their own and do long solo hours with only their thoughts. I think the bike is a fantastic place to think and get ideas (that is where I got the idea for this post!). But I also recognize that I'm not perfect. Sometimes when I'm having a hard day, I need something to take my mind away from negative thoughts I might be dwelling on. When that is the case, I often turn to music or podcasts. That said, I ALWAYS ride with only one headphone in (on my right side so that I can hear cars passing on the left). As road and path users, it is our responsibility to be aware of our surroundings and always attentive.
Don't forget to check your local laws and follow them above any advice anyone might be giving you. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own safety!