The Women’s Tour de France with Kristen Faulkner’s Zwift didn’t go as planned as she battled fatigue, illness and injury, but she would do it again.
The BikeExchange-Jayco rider from Alaska had positioned herself as a pre-race candidate following her second place overall in the Tour de Suisse and her two stage wins at the Giro d’Italia Donne just weeks before the start of the Women’s Tower.
However, she caught COVID between the Giro and the Tour, then a few early crashes in France hampered her even more. Despite the physical challenges, Faulkner found herself inspired by what was happening around her.
“Even though my body wasn’t in good shape. Emotionally, I was in really good spirits all the time,” Faulkner said. BikeNews. “I had a really amazing experience just being there and it was really moving in a good way just to see how much support we have and how many fans were there cheering.
“For me, I was able to have the worst physical experience of my life, but I still have an overall very positive Tour. If I could go back and decide whether to do it or not, I would still do it, even in the state I was in. Because it showed me what women’s cycling could be.
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Faulkner is a relative newcomer to professional cycling having joined TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank in 2020 before moving to the WorldTour for this season. Even in this short time, she was able to get a sense of the momentum that is building around the women’s side of the sport.
In conversation with BikeNewsshe mentions Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” and says that, for her, the Tour de France was like this moment for women’s cycling.
“It’s about how there’s momentum for things, but then there’s this tipping point where it all comes together,” she said. “I feel like the Tour this year was really that for us in many ways. We’ve had, over the past few years, the Tour of Flanders offering equal prize money, minimum wage for a woman in the World Tour, and we created the Alliance of Cyclists.
“There has been so much momentum in women’s cycling, but I think we almost needed this moment for everyone to recognize the progress and for people around the world, who had never listened to cycling, realize what is happening in women’s cycling and tune in to the changes that are being made in the sport. I think that was definitely a tipping point for women’s cycling and in many ways.
Before Faulkner turned to competitive cycling, she worked as a venture capitalist. She quit her job at the start of last season to focus entirely on being a top cyclist.
The reach of the Tour de France Women saw its two worlds collide for a brief moment when the Financial Times published a photo of the women’s peloton on the front page. Her friend sent her a picture of the front page and right in the center of the picture was Faulkner.
For the Alaskan, it was more than just a photo, it was a representation of how his life had changed over the past two years.
“It was a peloton photo, but I happened to be right in front. I was on the front page of the Financial Times. I wouldn’t have made the front page of the Financial Times if I had stayed in my position in the business,” she said. “It was that really interesting moment where I felt like my cycling career was like putting me in places that even my career in finance wouldn’t have. .
“It was a moment for me personally, that made me really proud of my decision to quit my job and do this. I gave up and sacrificed so much to come and do this. It was always worth it, I don’t I never doubted it, but it’s become so much more than I ever imagined, just because of the way women’s cycling is evolving, so it was also very meaningful for me to see that.
Faulkner is a huge advocate for gender equality and often uses his social media accounts to talk about it. The Women’s Tour de France was a big step forward for gender equality for the women’s peloton, but it’s also proven to have similar impacts elsewhere in the race, including in the press, which is usually dominated by men.
The experience evoked memories of his time working in venture capital, another male-dominated industry.
“I had so many more women coming up to me, asking me questions and interviewing me,” she said. “A woman actually asked me, ‘Do you think there’s a different gender balance and media people here and like, how does that make you feel?’ People will often say, “How is a man’s interview different from a woman’s?” There may be differences, but it’s also visual, it sends a message to us.
“I tried to talk to my old boss about it when I was in finance. In my company, there were only male managers, and the only other woman on my floor was a secretary. He told me said, ‘Do you feel like a male manager can’t be as good as a female?’ There are some things I want to talk about with a woman, but I also want to see people in power that I can look like I want to be able to talk to a manager about how you handle maternity leave and coming back.
“There are all these questions that a man can’t answer, but it’s also visual. I want to see people who look like me. Imagine if there’s like a little girl watching the race and she only sees male investigators, or if there’s something a woman would have asked for that a man wouldn’t have thought to ask , you know, it’s just things like that.
As inspiring as she found the experience of the Women’s Tour de France, she hoped for better physical performance. However, she and several teammates caught COVID at the end of the Giro d’Italia.
Although she had enough time to get rid of the virus before resuming racing, she did not have time to recover properly and started racing well below her level of a few weeks prior. Three heavy crashes in the early stages of the race left her nursing injuries on top of that.
“I tested negative for COVID and the next day I raced the Tour. It was much worse than the falls for me because I had already started the tour in a small hole and then every day I dug myself deeper.
Although she tried to keep an open mind at the start of the race, it quickly became clear that Faulkner would not be contesting the GC as she had hoped. Instead, she was in her own personal battle for the survival of the race. It was the first time she had experienced this, and it tested her to her limits.
“When I arrived in Europe, the transition was difficult for me, as I didn’t have a lot of professional racing experience, but I also rose through the ranks quite quickly. I haven’t had years of riding on my back or nearly wasting time on errands. So being in a race where I entered in such poor physical condition, and I was struggling to finish every day, as someone who has just won two stages of the Giro, I gained so much empathy for people whose goal is just to make time cut.
“It was a very good lesson for me to have gone through this because I had never experienced this before. Because I was in such a physical hole, I found myself a little more stressed than normal, and also a bit more anxious about what was going on during the race If I had a mechanic and I was dropped I didn’t know if I would come back, whereas another race it’s like I I knew I could come back and the stakes were higher I was much louder on the radio and a bit more anxious I noticed that I had reached a limit where I wasn’t as calm as needed during the race.
Faulkner has had time to relax since returning to Girona earlier this month and has only begun to intensify his training ahead of a scheduled return to racing at the Classic Lorient Agglomeration on August 27.
“It took me a good week to really get back to where I feel like I could get on my bike and do proper structure,” Faulkner said. “Right now, I’m slowly getting back into it and not doing anything too hard. I haven’t done super high intensity and it’s already been 12 days. It’s quite long, but I hadn’t had a break all season since the beginning of May, so I think it was long overdue, and my body is really enjoying it right now.