BEING PRO: LAUREN DE CRESCENZO
Team: Cinch Cycling Elite
Hometown: Broomfield, Colorado
Can you give our readers a recap of your cycling experience before you started racing gravel?
When I was 19 years old, I did my first road race in Georgia. It didn’t go very well, and I ended up with a broken collarbone. I recovered on the trainer and won my second race less than a month later.
Things only escalated from there. I joined the collegiate cycling team and a women’s U25 development team. I placed third at the road race at collegiate nationals, and I was invited to the Talent ID Camp at the Olympic Training Center. I was then invited to race in Europe with the national team. I was dropped almost immediately from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
I continued road racing for several years; however, in 2016 I suffered a nearly fatal traumatic brain injury (TBI) at a stage race. As I recovered in the rehab center, I thought I would never touch a bike again.
Fast-forward two years, I was in graduate school and decided to give collegiate racing another try. In 2019, I placed first in the individual time trial at nationals.
In the meantime, I had been dabbling in gravel. In 2018, I won Crusher in the Tushar on a borrowed cyclocross bike with my road shoes and pedals. I fell in love with the new discipline, as it allowed me to push my body as far as it would go. I love the sport, going fast and inspiring other people to send it on their bikes.
When did you start riding gravel, and how did your first race go? What’s a tip or two you wish you’d known earlier to improve the gravel riding experience?
I did my first gravel race in 2015. It was considered more of a road race because “gravel” didn’t exist yet. It was the Rouge Roubaix in Saint Francisville, Louisiana, and about 100 miles in length, a distance I had never raced before. I didn’t know what would happen, so I pushed myself as hard as I could for five hours and won my first “gravel” race.
Tip 1: Use mountain bike pedals if there is a chance of getting anything in your cleats! At Mid-South in 2019, I spent at least 5–10 minutes cleaning the mud from the river out of my road cleats.
Tip 2: Always have the course map easily accessible on your Wahoo or Garmin! The first time I rode SBT, I was in fourth, but then took a wrong turn down a hill! When I realized my mistake, I had to turn around, go back up the hill I had just descended and reenter the race. I’d been passed by a few people and felt totally defeated, so always wear appropriate shoes and know where you’re going!
How has your approach to cycling changed since you crashed in 2016?
During the TBI rehabilitation, I developed a different type of relationship with pain. I know the pain I feel on the bicycle is temporary and will not break me.
I’ve also realized that life is in a constant state of change. I do not know what will make me happy in five years. All I know is what will make me happy today, right now in the present moment. Today, cycling makes me happy. That’s why I accepted a pro contract and put my career in public health on pause.
I’m also more concerned with my safety, and that’s why I’m focusing more on gravel. I feel safer than I did on the road. I still like to dabble in road, and I’m still open to the idea of returning to road racing someday. Last year I raced the Pro National Championships and had the time of my life!
Has the way that you approach racing changed since you won Unbound Gravel?
I was offered a pro contract following my win at Unbound. They matched my salary, making it nearly impossible to say no! I’m now able to focus 100 percent on racing and not have to balance this extreme sport with a full-time job at CDC during a global pandemic. It’s the first time in my career I’ve been able to focus entirely on cycling. I’m excited to see how far I can go this time around!
What does the spirit of gravel mean to you?
To me, part of the beauty of the spirit of gravel is that each person defines it differently based on their own experience. My personal definition is pushing my body to places it’s never been before and being amazed with my own strength and tenacity at the end of these grueling events.
What are your racing goals for 2022? Any goals further down the line?
I would love to have as good a year as 2021! I would love to defend at Unbound, SBT and Gravel Worlds. The recent UCI announcement added a plot twist, so next season is somewhat contingent on these UCI events. I would love to race at the UCI Gravel World Championship next year! I’d also like to continue improving on the TT bike and finally live out my Olympic dreams someday.
In what ways has having a coach helped improve your performance?
I stopped working with a coach after my crash in 2016. Once I returned to racing, I thought that I’d acquired so much knowledge from all the years of being coached that it would be easy to figure it all out on my own. What I did was invent my own workouts while I was riding. In 2020, I completed the Zwift Academy and was able to set an Everesting world record!
I started working with a coach again in December 2020. I was working full-time, and my coach had written workouts where I could make the most of literally every minute on the bike. It was nice not to have to make up my workouts anymore on the fly, alleviating that pressure. Since working with my coach, I’ve enhanced the strengths I’ve always had and improved upon my greatest weaknesses.