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Lauren Stephens, the reigning U.S. road national champion with a successful European road career, is no stranger to gravel racing. Based in Dallas, Stephens first did a gravel race in 2012.
On the eve of SBT GRVL, a race where she and Tibco-SVB teammate Brodie Chapman went one-two in its inaugural 2019 edition, Stephens said that, for women, gravel racing is more than just fun.
“It is the best training we can get before going to Europe,” said Stephens. “On Sunday [at SBT GRVL], we will be in a huge peloton fighting for position. There will be narrow, rough roads. Compare that to, say, Joe Martin, where we will have 45 women in the field on roads where you can move up whenever you want.”
Stephens said that she initially got into gravel racing as a fun thing to do with her husband, Mat Stephens.
“Gravel used to be something where I tagged along with Mat, and did for training with relaxed competition,” she said. “No one knew I was there. I could put guys in the gutter for Mat.”
Now, she said, gravel racing is a getting a lot more serious, “and I’m not sure how I feel about that.”
Still, she sees it as a “best of both worlds,” with “mountain bike atmosphere and road racing’s format and effort.”
This year, Chapman will not be at SBT GRVL — she is racing the Ladies Tour of Norway for FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitane Futurescope. Stephens will take the start with her Tibco teammates Emily Newsom and Maddy Ward.
After SBT GRVL, Gravel Worlds, and Joe Martin, Stephens will be heading back to Europe for the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche — the French stage race she won in 2020 — followed by a likely appearance at the world championships, and then the inaugural women’s Paris-Roubaix.
With two top-10 Gent-Wevelgem finishes in her rearview mirror, don’t be surprised to see Stephens up front at Paris-Roubaix. After years of racing gravel, what are a few cobbles?