Road

Unsung heroes: Lauretta Hanson on the US road trip that changed her life

The Australian Trek-Segafredo rider was the first in her family to get a passport as she set off for a month of racing in the USA. The trip would kickstart her career.

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This article is part of a series on VeloNews, highlighting some of the unsung heroes of the women’s peloton. 

Lauretta Hanson was the first and only member of her family to get a passport.

The Australian, who rides as a domestique at Trek-Segafredo, got her first passport aged 18 as she embarked on an adventure to the USA that would kickstart her career as a professional cyclist.

Hansen was supposed to make the trip to America with a friend, but her friend didn’t go and she ended up doing the trip solo. It was a big challenge for Hansen, but she thrived in the new environment.

“I was racing with like a local team. One of those riders had raced in America before and suggested that she was going to go over the next year and asked me to go along with her. I ended up going on my own but that’s what kind of what propelled my career,” Hanson told VeloNews.

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“It was pretty daunting, to be honest, but I was really excited about it. I grew up in a small town, I’m still the only one in my family with a passport, so it was a pretty big step to be able to move to the other side of the world to go and experience something new.”

For Hanson, her trip to the U.S. was not some big grand plan to start a professional career. She just wanted to have a bit of fun with her bike before she began the responsibilities of being an adult.

Her plan was to spend a month racing in America and then travel to Europe for vacation before heading home to Australia. Her trip lasted a little bit longer than she expected after she was offered an athletic scholarship in mid-2014 and signed with her first UCI team in 2016.

“At that point, I really thought it was going to be a one-off thing. I’ll go to these few races enjoy some time in America and a month in Europe, just on holiday, experience the world a little bit and then come back and go to school and get my degree and do the rest of my life,” she said.

“I still remember standing on the start line of my first race and thinking it’s either going to be this sort of make-or-break moment. I’m either going to get dropped in the first couple of laps, or I’m going to be fine. I don’t think I did anything spectacular but I won a prime and made a little bit of money. It was sort of like, ‘oh, OK, I can actually do this.’ It was actually quite enjoyable.”

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Following her success in America, Hanson’s plans to study environmental science back in Australia were shelved as she saw how far she could go in her cycling career. Since stepping into the UCI ranks with Colavita-Bianchi in 2016, Hanson has stayed at U.S. teams right through to her contract with Trek-Segafredo.

Hanson’s biggest fan

As anyone who has worked in cycling or any professional sport knows that the key behind success is a strong support network, usually family. While Hanson doesn’t get to see hers in person too often during the season, hers are well and truly behind her and her mom is her biggest fan.

Hanson’s mother Heather (neé Kelson) was a racer herself and won the Australian road race title in 1981. Back then, there were very few opportunities for female cyclists in Australia to race as anything other than a hobby, and Hanson’s mom would give up soon after to become a nurse.

She’s still an intensive care nurse and has been working hard throughout the pandemic, but she loves to watch Hanson race when she can.

“She’s quite proud of what I’ve been able to do, but also the progress women’s cycling has made,” Hanson explained. “She was racing in an era where there wasn’t really any opportunity. She was national champion and that was as far as she could go really at that time.

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“We haven’t really talked about it. But I guess she’s proud, I would say, to see that progress. My mom is very passionate about cycling. She still loves it, and she loves that I race. It gives her an extra reason to follow it, but she really understands it and really enjoys racing, and just being able to see the progress and what’s happened and that women can actually make a good career out of cycling.”

Hanson’s grandfather also used to like riding, but he was killed when he was hit by a driver while he was riding on the road. She was only five at the time. Because of this, Hanson’s mother — like many parents — always makes sure her daughter is fully prepared when she heads out for training.

“My mom was always supportive, and really protective of me. She would often follow me when I was at training. She’s always a big advocate of bright colors and being visible,” Hanson said. “Our local club was redesigning the kit at the time and my mom really encouraged them to go for a very bright visible design. The main jersey was fluro yellow with pink shoulders. It was a bit of a statement, but I was definitely safe. She was 100 percent supportive and like, my mom is probably my biggest fan and also probably my biggest idol.”

The jersey remains in Hanson’s personal hall of fame.

“I still keep that jersey just for just for a reminder of how bad it was,” she said.