Why Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank is bullish on the gravel
2021 would mark Lauren Stephens for the eighth time at the Joe Martin Stage Race in Arkansas, but this year it comes in conflict with the all-new Wasatch All-Road Bike Race in Utah.
For Stephens, who has raced with the professional continental team Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank since 2013 and who won Joe Martin in 2015, the decision is straightforward.
“I’d rather do Wasatch in Utah,” Stephens said VeloNews. “That’s the uniqueness of gravel. It’s new, it’s different and it’s fun. ”
Stephens is one of the few professional roadies who have taken to the gravel. However, she sees the discipline from a different perspective than other current (Lachlan Morton, Alex Howes) and former (Alison Tetrick, Ted King, Peter Stetina) World Tour pros.
Besides being new, different and fun, Stephens said, racing gravel is great workout for the road.
“The gravel, especially the races where we start with the guys, is as close to the intensity as we have when we run European races,” she said. “With the mass start, it’s basically a race simulation of our EEuropean race – having these strong guys in there and having to fight for the wheels and hang on.
Stephens discovered the usefulness of gravel a few years ago and has competed in many of the country’s flagship events between races in Europe.
In 2019, Team Tibco was in Colorado to compete in the Colorado Classic Road Race. Stephens and his then-teammate Brodie Chapman ended up going 1-2 (with the Australian finishing first) in the inaugural SBT GRVL race at Steamboat Springs a few days before the road race kicked off.
In 2020, Stephens and his teammate Kristen Faulkner moved him from Belgium to Stillwater, Oklahoma for The Mid South, a race that barely squeaked before coming to a complete halt due to the pandemic. Faulkner was third and Stephens fourth in what Faulkner later described as “the toughest race I’ve ever done”.
Currently, Team Tibco has six riders from the United States, and all have run or will have run on gravel. In April, national cyclocross champion Clara Honsinger finished second (against rival Rebecca Fahringer) at the Gorge Gravel Grinder in Oregon. Since returning from Europe after Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Kristen Faulkner has been crushing gravel from northern California, notably during an informal Grasshopper Adventure Series event.
Last weekend, Stephens and her teammate Emily Newsom raced at Gravel Locos in Texas, where Newsom was the first woman to finish. Maddy Ward rode in the Grasshopper Adventure Series Huffmaster Hopper near Mendocino.
And team management is also favorable. Tibco is North America’s oldest professional cycling team, and with a dearth of road racing opportunities in North America, directors have encouraged women to run off-road when possible. Recently, Tibco appointed Stephens’ husband, Mat, as the de facto gravel manager.
“We are an American team with American sponsors,” said Lauren Stephens. “Gravel is also very important to Cannondale. Racing in America is important, and the gravel is the opportunity for American racing. “
The Tibco team isn’t giving up European road racing for gravel, of course. The team had a great campaign at the Flemish Classics, with Stephens and Faulkner both in the top 10 in Gent-Wevelgem and Faulkner 10th in Flanders. As for Stephens, after the American nationals on the road, the Texan will go overseas for La Course, the Giro Rosa and perhaps Tokyo.
After that, however, it’s back to the gravel. Every weekend August is packed, from rooted Vermont and SBT to Gravel Worlds and the Wasatch race.
“I’m just at this point in my career where I’m like, ‘Which race will be the most fun? Stephens said.
“It’s a really tough workout and you get a really good quality of it, but it also has that fun and relaxed side to it, whereas in Europe everything is a big deal all the time. It’s sort of the best of both worlds.