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Q&A: Lauren de Crescenzo on minimizing drama and maximizing results

2021's winningest gravel racer talks about going gravel pro, the unhealthy wrath of the internet, and what she's excited about for 2022.

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For those that follow the pointy end of gravel racing, Lauren de Crescenzo was the most accomplished — and controversial — female rider of 2021.

The 31-year-old didn’t emerge out of obscurity to win Unbound Gravel in June but she did win the race after retiring from road cycling and moving on into the “real world.” In fact, she was passing through Kansas after getting married in Colorado when she won the prestigious race. Not that it was a lark — the former domestic pro is very serious about bike racing — but she’d fully shifted gears to working for the CDC after completing her master’s degree in Public Health in Epidemiology in May of 2019. In fact, she worked an eight-hour day before the race.

After she won Unbound, everything changed. A dream came true. Her coach Tom Danielson offered to match her salary at the CDC. She quit her day job. Then in August, she won SBT GRVL where the celebration quickly gave way to criticism. De Crescenzo was accused of working with teammates to bypass aid stations and jump ahead of the other lead women. Danielson posted a rant on Instagram after the fact, which made matters much worse.

Nevertheless, De Crescenzo forged ahead, focusing on what she loves most, which is training and winning bike races. She did that, commandingly, at Gravel Worlds, in August, and The ‘Rad in October. All the while, she remained mostly quiet on social media and participated in behind-the-scenes conference calls with other female racers to discuss women’s racing. Not much came of the calls, she told VeloNews, yet she was happy to join the conversations.

Looking ahead, De Crescenzo is steady and focused, reflective on both the successes and challenges of last year.  She would love a set — or two — of rainbow stripes, and she doesn’t think that social media is the setting to help her achieve her goals. She’s training to race and will race to win. She’s also excited to share what she’s learned with other women.

VeloNews spoke with De Crescenzo via phone call from her home in Atlanta, Georgia.

VeloNews: As you reflect on 2021, what stands out for you? 

Lauren De Crescenzo: Last year was amazing for me. I was working 40 hours a week at the CDC during a global pandemic and it was insane. It was a huge change going from that to where I am now. I couldn’t say no to the opportunity. I kinda knew this would happen as I was crossing the finish line in Emporia. And I’m really happy with the decision I’ve made. It’s been my dream life for years since I started racing a long, long time ago. Now, my main priorities for the day are doing my training, recovering, and talking to you on the phone. It’s awesome. 

I feel like I’ve finally had the opportunity to really pursue this. Which I’m really excited about for this year because I don’t have a full-time job anymore.

VN: How much did the SBT GRVL drama affect your reflection on last year? 

LDC: I think last year was really weird. It was really, really weird to be in the middle of all of that. I just like going out and training and riding. I feel like some of my performances were under appreciated or undervalued because of my connections with my team. I mean, all that data is on Strava. I’m kinda disappointed about that. It is changing, the team dynamic, too. This year I won’t be showing up to any races with any male teammates. Which kinda sucks for the guys. A lot of them are just trying to do what I’m doing, but we’ll have different calendars.

VN: Sometimes it seems like you have the ability to shrug off drama. Is that true? 

LDC: I wouldn’t say that necessarily, I just have a way of focusing on my actual goals, what I think is important. And avoiding all the drama. Focusing on my racing. The week after Steamboat was horrible for me, absolutely horrible. So I put my phone on do not disturb mode and focused on Gravel Worlds. I thought, well I’ll just try to win by even more. It sucked. It was a shame. 

I had to start seeing a therapist this off-season. It was so weird going from, well, you and I talked after the Everesting record, and it was like ‘oh, Lauren’s amazing,’ to this other side of the internet I’d never seen before. 

VN: And I’m sure Tom’s video did not help matters, right?  

LDC: All I think is that people should not post videos on Instagram at 3 a.m. They should sleep on it. That video should have never been posted. And that might be a reason that I don’t post stuff. Once it’s out there, it’s out there and you can’t erase it. He was upset, too. Everyone on the internet hated him, too. 

VN: Did you watch it? 

LDC: No, I couldn’t. 

That was such a strange week for everyone involved. My teammate Holly flew in from Norway. She’s good. She did Gravel Worlds with me. That whole week it was us, Tom, and the mechanic, and it was a really, really strange time. I’ve never been the subject of the internet’s hatred, I’ve never broken the internet before. It was a really weird week. Nothing that we said or did should have been on the internet. 

VN: I’ve noticed you are way less active on social media than other figures in gravel cycling. Do you feel pressure to post more often? 

LDC: Yes a little bit but at the same time maybe I’m just a private person. I don’t think it’s good for mental health, always being on my phone. I just want to race. The social media stuff is all-consuming. And I don’t think it’s very healthy. 

I read an article recently about how cycling isn’t even a race of who’s the fastest, it’s a race of who has the most followers. I thought that was really disappointing. It takes away from the sport.

I know I need to get better at social media but I’m also worried about my mental health. 

VN: Let’s change tacks. Why do you love gravel?

LDC: The challenge is really cool. It’s totally different from road. I like the challenge, the courses are crazy. I just like challenging myself. I felt amazing at the end of Unbound. It was like, ‘that’s the longest I’ve ever ridden my bike, that was incredible.’ You’re out there with everyone. It’s not a race where it’s just all of your peers who race bikes, it’s everyone. And whoever has the best day, they win. I do love that part of it. 

lauren de crescenzo
De Crescenzo hosted two gravel camps during the off-season, one in Atlanta and one in Longmont, CO. (Photo: CINCH)

VN: Is gravel your sole focus for 2022?

LDC: I still do have some road goals in my life. I’ve been spending some time this off-season on my TT bike. One of my goals this year is TT nationals in Knoxville. I always will have a roadie heart. 

This off-season I’ve done some gravel clinics with women who are just starting, learning skills. That’s been really cool. This year I do have some female teammates now of all ages and ability levels and it’s cool, I’m kinda coming into a leadership/mentor role for these girls who are trying to get into gravel. One of my teammates, she’s a really good triathlete who wanted to change over and I get to show her the way.

So another goal is being able to share the knowledge I’ve acquired with people who are trying to get into the sport. It was like, ‘wow, I was actually giving them info that they could use.’ Things I don’t even think about anymore. It’s like being a teacher. I guess it’s about time — I’ve been doing this sport for so long.

I’ve definitely changed in that way, I guess, taking on more of a leadership and mentorship role for other women on my team. It gives me something else to do. 

And yes, I’m signed up for Unbound.

VN: So, clearly you’re not sitting around on your phone. 

LDC: I like doing all of these things. I like doing things in real life. I love actually doing stuff. Someone wrote me a handwritten letter after one of the clinics, saying it was so inspiring and thank you. Another one said that my TBI story gave her hope in her dark moments. That’s what I want, handwritten letters, making actual impacts on individual lives, not the whole social media game. It’s hard to quantify those. Those people will be fans forever. Seeing people at these races, riding with people. Doing things in real life is pretty cool. 

VN: Your contract with Cinch ends in August. Have you thought about what you’ll do? Will you go the privateer route? 

LDC: I’m just taking every day as it comes. I am really appreciative of all the support they give me. I’m grateful for that and the opportunities that they’re providing. It really always comes back to the TBI. I realized then that you can only control so much. That’s why I’ve transitioned to taking things day by day and not getting ahead of myself. 

VN: Is UCI gravel worlds on your radar?

LDC: It’s one of the things I’m targeting. I want to focus on gravel and be the best gravel racer I can be. UCI worlds is pretty exciting — as a former roadie, it’s exciting to think of the rainbow stripes. I would also love to do [road worlds] in Australia. Would be pretty cool to go from gravel worlds to road worlds. My big goals these days are gravel and the TT and sharing any knowledge I have with people who want to listen. Oh, and, inspiring people, especially women. When someone, especially a TBI-sufferer, writes me a letter, that will always be the most important thing.