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Editor’s note: In preparing each issue of Velo, space and time constraints mean that some content inevitably does not make the pages of the magazine. This feature was originally slated for the January 2013 issue of Velo, the 25th annual Awards Issue.
In just her second year as a pro, Lauren Hall (Tibco-To the Top) won two national titles on the track and placed second in both the national criterium and national road race championships. The Mississippi native, who now lives in Dolores, Colorado, has made it clear why her nickname is “The Bullet.”
After playing soccer at Mississippi State University on a full scholarship, Hall played semi-pro soccer for three years. She was hoping this would progress into a professional career, but she never got an invite. Since her grandfather had played for the San Francisco ’49ers in the NFL, Hall decided to set her sights on a different sport in hopes of keeping a professional athlete in the family.
Hall made triathlon her next pursuit; she had already run a marathon and figured she could learn how to swim. All she needed was a bike.
“I was flipping through a magazine at a local bike shop and I came across a picture of Katharine Carroll winning a bike race,” Hall said. “I played soccer with her at Memphis Mercury (formerly of the Women’s Premier Soccer League) so I figured if she could do it, I could do it. I called her up to get advice for how to get started in the sport of cycling.”
Hall began cycling in 2007, at the age of 28. She started riding for a local team in Mississippi, and it wasn’t long before her training partners recognized her potential and encouraged her to race. She started with criteriums in Mississippi and Louisiana, and eventually found her way to the start line at the 2008 national criterium championship in Downers Grove, Illinois.
“This was the pinnacle of it for me,” Hall said. “I remember being nervous and excited at the same time and determined to make an impression on these girls that I belonged here. I was so excited when I made the front of the peloton at different times, but that excitement soon caught up to me and I started fading fast towards the end of the race. I remember riding a lap by myself after I had been dropped and I was so embarrassed!”
She would get pulled, but found herself on the other side of the fence, as a fan. “After calming down, I was excited to watch the finish of the race and I wedged my way to the start line barrier to watch the girls sprint across the line,” she said.
Hall set out to find a coach who could help her get to the next level. She found Michael Engelman in Colorado, and moved west in April 2009 to start a new adventure.
Hall guest-rode — or stagiaired — at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, SRAM Tour of the Gila, and Cascade Cycling Classic in 2009, then signed with Team Vera Bradley in 2010 for her first year as a pro. She raced in the U.S. for two years before traveling to Europe for the first time in 2011, experiencing the competition and intensity of a larger, faster peloton.
“Michael kept telling me that I was a good rider and to never give up, but until I could do it for myself, I wasn’t sure,” Hall said. “Now I have a handle on things and how it feels to be at the top.”
Hall has short-term goals to continue racing in Europe, seize a podium spot in a World Cup, and win a national championship. Long term, Hall has her eyes set on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“There are three or four girls that I am very good friends with in the peloton in the U.S.,” Hall said. “I really look forward to it because I know there are so many girls who could have gone to the Olympics this year. I look forward to seeing what will happen.”
As she has had success both on the road and the track, Hall is unsure what events she will focus on in the future.
“Track was more something for me to do in the winter time to keep my legs going and fitness up. Michael said he has never seen an athlete take to the track like I have. I just fell in love with it,” she said.
Regardless of what path she chooses, Hall has proven that her strength is sprinting, a quality she says stems from her days on the soccer field. She has also become an overall GC contender, having improved her climbing since moving to Colorado four years ago.
Hall will move to National Racing Calendar champion Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies for 2013 and it’s safe to say there are big things still to come from “The Bullet.”