Get to know Kristen Faulkner

The American all-rounder’s next big dream is to win a medal at the Paris Olympics

February 27, 2024

On Sunday, Kristen Faulkner won Omloop van het Hageland.

She hopes it is the start of her best year yet. The 30-year-old Alaskan has always dreamed big. Kristen earned her bachelor’s degree at Harvard, where she competed on the university rowing team. She finished second in the world junior rowing championships, before moving to New York City to pursue a career in tech and finance. At 28 years old, she left her job to pursue an uncertain future as a professional cyclist. Her courage and tenacity have paid off. Kristen has won stages at the Tour Féminin de l'Ardèche, the Ladies Tour of Norway, the Tour de Suisse, and the Giro d’Italia Donne, where she also won the Queen of the Mountains jersey. This year, she joins EF Education-Cannondale for the team’s inaugural season. Her main goal is the Olympics.

Get to know Kristen Faulkner.

Congratulations Kristen. What did your win at Omloop van het Hageland mean to you?

The first time I did this race, I got dropped after 30 minutes and had to pull out. It was the worst race I have ever done in my life, so I was not sure how this year was going to go. I put no real expectations on myself, because I had thought it would go quite poorly for me, but the team backed me up and thought I could attack and do a good job. It was great to come back to the race and show the progression I have made as a rider. I had the team around me all day and I felt so supported by my teammates. Coming to a brand new team and having that support right away was really special, especially so early in the season. I had a really bad injury last year, so to come back healthy this year and start it with a win on Opening Weekend was exciting. It’s a new year, a clean slate, on a new team and I am healthy and I am back. I think the combination of those three things made the win really meaningful.

How does it feel to join EF Education-Cannondale?

I feel optimistic about the season. I feel supported by Esra, Daniel, and Carmen from our performance team and my coach Nate. Camps have been super organized. There are many resources going towards the women’s team and I feel like the organization wants to make the squads as equal as possible. I have also been excited to meet the girls on the team. They are all smart, ambitious, and curious off the bike, which really jives with me. The team cares about individuality and letting people be themselves. And, on this team, people do what they say they are going to do. If they say they are going to start a women’s team and treat it equally, they are not just saying it for PR. I really respect that.

What are your own interests off the bike?

I like to go on big adventures - like hiking and camping. I recently went to Machu Picchu. That is one of the challenges for me during the season: I don’t get to go on many of the camping trips I enjoy. Otherwise, I enjoy spending time with my family and my boyfriend. I also started a yoga certification to become a teacher during the off-season. And I love to cook. I have the New York Times recipe app and every night I cook a different recipe. I love coming up with new healthy recipes.

Do you have any book recommendations for us?

I would recommend  “Range” and “The Happiness Advantage.” “Range” is about how trying different sports and activities when you’re young can help you see things from new angles. “The Happiness Advantage” is about how self-confidence and optimism can help you perform better. In cycling, we talk about showing up to a race physically fit, but I think that it is important to consider how our mental preparation affects our performance. Learning how to bounce back from a setback, or go into a race confidently takes time to build. Having followed a non-traditional path into cycling, that book showed me that my background can be an asset rather than a disadvantage.

How would you describe the progression you have made as a rider?

When I first came to Europe, I was strong, but I struggled with positioning and accelerations, so races were hard for me. Over the last two years, I worked a lot on those two things. This winter, I did track for the first time ever, which helped my acceleration. Learning to find the right moment to attack is something I have gotten better at, too. At Hageland, I didn’t want to attack far from the finish, but it was the right moment and I had to go. The last thing I’ve learned is how to trust my teammates. When I started cycling, I wasn’t good at riding with my teammates, but at Hageland I could ride with them the whole day. This is going to make me a better rider and help the team perform better.

You have achieved a lot on your own. Do you sometimes have a hard time relying on others?

I was a rower in college, so I was part of a very strong team dynamic. I am someone who likes things to be done perfectly and I like to be in control. If my result is at stake, giving that responsibility to someone else has always been hard for me, because I want to do it myself. I think cycling has taught me that it is okay to relinquish control to other people and accept that they know what they are doing.

Why did you decide to become a cyclist?

I just loved it. I love riding my bike. I love training. And one thing kind of turned to the next. I have always been a competitive athlete. I competed in rowing and placed second in the junior world rowing championships. I was a D1 rower in college. When I started cycling, you couldn’t make a living from it as a woman. I couldn’t make a living at it. I feel fortunate that I entered the sport at a time when all of that is changing. If I had entered the sport ten years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it, so that has had a big impact on me becoming a professional cyclist.

What was it about the sport that you loved?

I just love the feeling of the wind in my hair. I love the exhilaration you get when you are pushing yourself. If I am having a bad day off the bike, I can go out and do my training and come back and no matter what else is going on, I have accomplished something that day. I enjoy that I am constantly improving, too. There is always something to work on: bike skills, peloton skills, descending, my time-trial position, pacing strategies, attacking, sprints.

What has the sport taught you?

When we did Strengthsfinder at camp my top strength was ‘Learning,’ and in this sport I am constantly learning. Every day as a cyclist is different, but also predictable, so it lends just enough familiarity and stability to my days. The other thing I love about the sport is that it is international and I have teammates from around the world who speak different languages. Being able to communicate cross-culturally with people is one of the most important skills for the 21st century. I think that cyclists have had the opportunity to develop that skill. We have to communicate under pressure, so we’re always developing these communication and negotiation skills. Someone once told me, when I left finance, that I was going to lose a lot of my hireability. For a while, I was like, maybe, but I have been gaining so many life skills that I think in the long run I will be just fine.

What are your goals for this year?

I want to do well at Strade and Flanders and Liege. Those are my big goals for the spring. And then I want to win the US nationals time trial and make the Olympic team. To wear the USA jersey in Paris would be special. It is something I have looked forward to all of my life, so to make that a reality would be a dream come true. I have worked with my coach on a training plan and have a race plan that allows me to peak in May. I will have some racing in my legs, but I won’t be exhausted from doing all the spring classics. Finding a good balance in my racing schedule and riding on my TT bike this winter and spring will be key. Then it will come down to the pre-race preparation to get the rest and do all of the things that I will need from a physiological standpoint to be at my best.

What would it mean to you to go to the Olympics?

I remember watching the 2000 Olympics in Sydney when I was eight years old. My first sport was swimming and Michael Phelps was entering the prime of his career. I remember thinking, that is my idol. I would love to be able to do that one day. To go to the Olympics would be the fulfillment of a childhood dream.

Tell us about the racing you are doing on the track.

I spent December and January with the US track team, trying to make the team pursuit squad for Paris. I will go back this summer for a final selection camp. I did my first race with them in Adelaide, Australia. In terms of the training, most of my natural fitness has always been doing the longer 20-minute efforts. Standing starts have helped me build raw power and strength, which has helped me on the road. Having that power as another asset to tap into makes me a more well-rounded road rider and will hopefully allow me to win. It makes me more unpredictable and able to do more than just long solo attacks.

What about long term? What are your ambitions?

I want to win a medal at the Olympics. I want to win a world championship in the time trial. And I would like to win a stage at the Tour de France. I am a time trialist and good at the shallow climbs, so picking the right parcours for that will be a challenge. If there is a tour that has a somewhat hilly stage, a rolling stage, and a time trial, I think it would allow me to showcase myself as a well-rounded rider. It would be fun at some point in my career to become more of a GC rider. And I want to win a Monument in the spring classics. I have some big goals, don’t I? You know what they say, “Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars". That is my motto. This year, we have it written on our bus. I am not scared to dream big, because what is the worst that could happen?

From where do you get your courage?

My parents. My mum moved to Alaska when she was 22 and had five kids before the days of cell phones and the internet, so I think she did something more difficult than what I am doing now. My dad has always been a big dreamer. He doesn’t go with the flow. He clears his own path and if people disagree with him, he is like, okay, that is their choice. Having both of them as role models, I learned to dream big and not put too much weight on what is a ‘normal’ trajectory and instead ask myself what feels right for me. When I was younger, my dad said to me, don’t find a job; create a job. I think that entrepreneurial mentality of his resonates with me in a lot of aspects of life. Don’t wait for an opportunity; create an opportunity. Don’t wait for a team; find a team. Don’t wait for the right race; make it the race.

Was it difficult when you first moved to Europe to race?

It was really hard. I didn’t know anyone when I arrived and had to build a new life. The only kind of resemblance of a home I have in the US is my parents’ place in Alaska. I go there for maybe ten days a year for Christmas, but I’m on the KICKR the whole time. I have always felt this tension between spending time with my friends and family and pursuing my dream.

What do your friends back home think of this path that you are on?

It is quite different from what most of my peers in finance and tech are doing. Some of them enjoy cycling on the weekends and they enjoy following my career. I think they are really proud of me. When I started, people thought that I was making a stupid decision. I had this amazing job in finance and a great career trajectory ahead of me. That was the hardest time of my life. I was waking up at 5 a.m., training for two to three hours, and going to work for 10 hours. People often ask me, what is the proudest moment of your life? They expect me to say, winning a stage of the Giro or winning the QOM at the Giro, but when I look back, I am most proud of those years when I was working and training and no one really believed in it, except for me. That is what I am most proud of. And now I am here with this team!

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