Laurel Rathbun Interview

Forever a fan of Laurel Rathbun, Tenspeed Hero was lucky to meet this amazing young woman when she was 18 years old and already a veteran of the race circuit since she was seven. Passionate about her racing, always willing to greet her younger fans with advice and a smile, Laurel is a true gem of the cycling world. In this interview we catch up after a year of highs and lows, including participating in the inaugural U23 World Championships, a full season of racing CX for Raleigh Clement and racing for United Health Care in her first World Tour Event. At the Aviva Tour she became a crowd favorite for heroically riding 38K on a flat tire to finish stage three and then sadly an unfortunate crash followed on the penultimate stage of the tour. Its been over a year since our last interview and we have lots to catch up about! In 10 questions we discuss racing, chocolate, wheelies, recovery, advice for Juniors and a historical moment of motorized doping.

10 Questions For Laurel Rathbun by Luke Batten

Photographs by Luke, Alex and Isaiah

Luke: First question, How are you doing since your crash at the Aviva Tour? How is the recovery since surgery? When will you be back on the bike and racing?

Laurel: It’s been 24 days since the crash and I definitely see progress. Each day, I find new challenges to overcome … lots of little things that I never worried about before. July 11 was my first day back on the trainer It’s going to be a bit before I am cleared to ride outside though. Doctors are monitoring my recovery/physical therapy, but are not ready to speculate as to when I can start racing again.

Luke:When I got to the hospital in Stoke on Trent I must say you were feisty, alert, and terribly funny with the doctors and nurses. However, as your surgery kept getting delayed I could feel you starting to slip emotionally because of the constant pain and of course 10 hours with no water because of the impending surgery! Anything to offer that young cyclist like yourself who is far from home and in a similar situation.

Laurel:I pray that no one else has to go through that awful process. I tried to laugh and joke with the nurses to distract myself from the pain, but that only worked for so long. I didn’t fully understand what was going on or how serious my injuries were; all I knew was that I was in a lot of pain and nobody was giving me water. Those 10 hours were only bearable because I had a hand to hold while the tears streamed down my face.

Luke:The last 12 months have been extremely busy for you. A full Cyclocross season racing for Raleigh Clement, the first women’s U23 World Championships, racing for Team USA in Europe and then the Aviva Tour with United Health Care. There must be some good stories and some things you learned about yourself.

Laurel:It’s been an incredible last 12 months – full of “Firsts.” I raced my first World Cup (Cross Vegas) last fall; I raced in the inaugural U-23 Women’s CX World Championship; I experienced road racing in Europe for the first time (including my first race on cobbles and my first European stage race); and I had the opportunity to race the Aviva Women’s Tour of Britain with United HealthCare for the first time.

I’ve learned that its ridiculously difficult to be an excellent college student, work, volunteer in the community, race collegiately and be a professional cyclist; but, it’s not impossible when you have extremely supportive teams like Raleigh Clement and Marian University!

I’ve also learned that I pack too many clothes when I travel

…that I cannot bring chocolate back to the U.S. unharmed; it’s always mangled, melted or mushed

…there are countless magical moments with friends and teammates along the journey

…and, no amount of words will ever adequately convey the stories

Luke: Probably the most infamous and historical moment was the first official “motorized doping” violation that occurred in the 2016 U23 World Championship race in Belgium by Femke Van den Driessche. We heard from pretty much everyone in the sport on this but I really did not see many interviews with the U23 women who competed against her? What did you think after you heard the news? Did you know right away?

Laurel: This crazy story was one of the first things I heard the mechanics talking about after the race. None of us really knew what happened or knew her personally, so it was all just rumors and speculation at the time. Quickly, it became the biggest story of the weekend and Monday morning while I was sitting in the Brussels airport waiting for my flight, “Mechanical Doping” was written on the front of every newspaper. It’s sad and frustrating that it was the inaugural U-23 women’s CX World Championship and only the negative was highlighted. I hope this year the focus will be strictly positive and the emphasis will be on those who ride clean.

Luke: One of my favorite battles to watch last CX season was you and Emma Swartz throwing everything at each other to earn some of the last spots on the U23 Worlds team. I know you two are friends off the bike and at school. Were you two marking each other because it always seemed like you were on each other’s wheels! Is it hard to compete against a good friend?

Laurel: When you think of a true friend it’s someone who pushes you to be better the very best person you can be. That’s the relationship Emma and I have. I love racing and competing with her, but it’s never sad losing to her because I respect her. She’s intelligent, a hard worker, and kind to everyone. I love racing with Emma because I know that no matter what happens, we’ll always still be friends.

Luke: Ok I have a couple of advice questions. Since you have been racing since you were a young woman. Can you give some advice to your younger fans in navigating the development side of cycling? Also can you give their parents any advice?

Laurel: I’ve been racing since I was seven years old, so 13 years now. I can honestly say that the reason I am still racing and not burned out is because I have an amazing, supportive family. My parents never forced training or racing on me. I’m a competitive person at heart; I rode and raced when I wanted to. I didn’t win every National Championship from the time I was 10, but I was always there, always had fun and am still racing today and loving every single second. My advice to young cyclists is to, of course, have fun, but always be thankful for the experiences and opportunities that are given. I (along with most people) remember who is kind and who says thank you. It’s infinitely more important to be a good person than a good cyclist. There’s much more to life than riding a bike.

Luke: How important has Team USA been to your development this year as a cyclist. Anyone you would like to mention?

Laurel: USA Cycling is making an effort to support and promote junior, U-23 and elite women’s cycling. I will be forever grateful to Jack Seehafer for giving me my first European road experience as it led to my second, slightly less successful one in Britain. It’s motivating when you see that USAC chose a full team of six women to represent the U.S. at U23 CX World Championships. It shows they are invested in the future of women’s cycling. I also want to thank Steve McCauley and the USAC Development Foundation for their support.

Luke: Rumor has it you are working on your wheelie. How is it going?

Laurel: My super rad teammate/little brother Lance helped me learn to wheelie last fall. I made some pretty good progress, but got away from practicing for a while. I am looking forward to getting back to that.

Luke: At the Aviva Tour you rode the last 38K of a stage on a flat tire. This must really suck!! What happened? Why no wheel change and what did you think about to not give up.

Laurel: That was an insane day. Just after the final climb, a brutal QOM climb that averaged 15% for about 2k, the field was shattered. The team car was with my teammate Katie who was minutes up the road in a breakaway. As soon as I realized I had flatted, I put my hand up and pulled off to the left hand side of the road. All of the remaining team cars all came by. I looked for a neutral service car, but there wasn’t one. Eventually the broom wagon came by; I explained the problem and they said all they had was a CO2 cartridge and a tube – that didn’t help since I had tubular tires. My choices were to abandon and get in the car or keep riding. For me, the choice was obvious – keep riding. UHC showed a lot of faith in me, so I wanted to give everything I had for them.

Luke: One last question! Are you so excited for CX?!?!?!

Laurel: I’m so excited!!! I am really hoping to be sufficiently recovered before the first round of World Cups kick off in the U.S. in September.