A pre-race favorite in yesterday’s Road Race at the USA Cycling National Championships, Lauren fell just shy in her bid to claim her first National Championship on the road.

In Part II of my conversation with Lauren Hall (Optum Procycling), we discuss racing in the Stars and Stripes, the future of women’s cycling, and why Tim Reynolds should be looking over his shoulder.

Lenny B (LB): Each of the top three moments on your palmares is related to the Stars and Stripes. Is there something extra special about representing or racing for your country?

Lauren Hall (LH): You bet, representing the USA and representing the US peloton, that’s a good feeling.

LB: Another thing that is often mentioned in articles about you is your age (I would be lying if I didn’t say that you look like you are still in your twenties). Some would consider your recent Gent-Wevelgem win “age defying,” but your cycling career still seems to be on an upward trajectory. Do you still feel like you are improving…that there are things to improve upon?

LH: Well for sure, it should be progressing, this is only my 5th year as a professional and my coach (Michael Engleman) and I have taken my training slowly. You can look at the peloton throughout the years and see the riders that have come in and tried too hard, too fast and just burned out. So I’m looking for a more gradual progression year to year and so far, we are on track. I’m going to give you a big fat thank you for the wonderful compliment 🙂 I don’t feel 35, whatever it’s supposed to feel like, I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life, I lead a healthy lifestyle compared to my 20’s and my soccer days and I couldn’t be in a better situation. Cycling is the sport you will always continue to learn, if you keep an open mind and watchful eye. Every leadout, every break, every race brings different situations, each one unique and every time I learn a bit more about myself, my teammates and this sport.

LB: What is the biggest thing that you have learned on the road…about cycling…about yourself?

LH: I guess I’ve learned that it’s ok to be an athlete and lead a bit of a crazy lifestyle. When I first was getting into the sport, I was still living in Mississippi and most of my friends were having kids and I knew I wasn’t ready for that but I was wondering if I was the only female in her late 20’s that wasn’t having kids. Then I get into this sport and see that I’m one of many and this lifestyle is perfectly fine. It’s so cliche, everyone is different, but man it’s so true! I’ve also learned that I’m my hardest critic. No one is more upset when I make a mistake than myself.

LB: What is your ultimate goal as a cyclist? What is your ultimate goal in life? Do you still see yourself racing in 5 years?

LH: My ultimate goal as a cyclist would be to start a cycling program in MS, a high school program or after school league. On a more intimate level, I want to make the Worlds team, the Olympics and continue to grow the women’s side of the sport in the US.

LB: What is your ultimate goal in life?

LH: Wow…I would have to say to make my family proud of me, to be successful in whatever I’m doing and to continue to be athletic and outdoorsy and explore the world. I honestly figured I would retire after 2016. I will be 38 years old and who knows, maybe I will be a director?

LB: Since you mentioned Brett Favre earlier, should we anticipate multiple comebacks on top of multiple retirements?

LH: HA! HA! I LOVE this interview! No, no multiple retirements here. I’m the type of person, when I make a decision; I’m fully committed, hence moving from Mississippi to pursue a career in cycling.

LB: Can we at least count on you for a Wrangler commercial?

LH: If they are paying the money, heck yeah!!! Wranglers can highlight my best side, my back side!!!

LB: You race for your club team, Optum Procycling, in the States but have raced a great deal in Europe for the US National team…have you noticed a difference in the style of racing? If so which do you prefer?

LH: Style may not be the right word; the difference is quality and depth of the peloton and the smaller, more technical roads. It may seem more aggressive but I think that goes back to the amount of riders that are considered a threat or dangerous for a win. I really enjoy the European peloton, more because those are the best races, most prestigious races and roads in the world. How many people get the opportunity to race the cobbles of Flanders? The history and the toughness of that course are absolutely amazing. I also enjoy racing in Europe because that is the best riders in the world and trying to predict an outcome can be difficult.

LB: We finally have a day at the Tour, but it’s far from a stage race. Do you feel as if women’s cycling has arrived, so to speak? How far does it still need to go before you or any female cyclist would consider it an even playing field? Why do you think the sport has lagged behind so much in comparison to a sport like tennis?

LH: I do feel that in the last 2 years, women’s cycling has made significant steps forward. But only time will tell, right? I think it will be a level playing field when a young girl can look at cycling as an athletic career, just as in tennis or golf. When you have development from community programs, high school programs through to college and they all connect. This movement has to have sustainability, I think that will be the deciding factor.

I think we haven’t been able to have the coverage or the stage and that’s why it has lagged. If you look at tennis or golf, the announcers know the players; know their stories and their pathways to where they are today. They show the family in the stands, interview them, their coaches….why not do that in cycling? I know some really amazing women in this sport and some of the stories.

LB: If you were named UCI pres. today, what type of measures would you implement to improve women’s cycling?

LH: Another good, hard question huh?! Is there any way you can copy what the Women’s Tour of Britain did??? We had coverage everyday on the evening news, we had a safe and professional racing environment for the riders and caravan. There was an appropriate prize list, knowledgeable announcers, organization and comfortable accommodations. There was community support for the race by each town we raced through, the race incorporated school kids and local community rides (Breeze rides). I also love the Sportifs prior to the spring classics, fans, amateurs and tourists loved riding the same course we race.

LB: Do you think we could pull/sustain something like the Women’s Tour of Britain in the States? The Exergy Tour looked promising until sponsorship went by the wayside?

Optum Pro Cycling Training Camp, Feb. 2012

LH: Yes I do, if you look at the Women’s Tour of Britain they involved the communities and towns that we raced through, they had all the school children participating in events, they had local rides at the same location as our start locations and they had the race on national evening news. Each stage, all presentations, they weren’t over the top, no loud music but there was a wonderful announcer that knew all of the riders(as much as possible) and did a great job presenting each team, each rider. The race was safe, the promoter was organized and nothing was over the top but it was all professionally run. Also the hotels were nice and the food was good, little things that we don’t take for granted ever! Exergy definitely had the potential; you just have to find the right group to run the race the way it needs to be run to be successful.

LB: If you were forced to pick one, track or road, which? Why?

LH: At the moment, road, it has taken me around the world, to the best races in the world. Most of racing is the team that is behind your or in front of you, I love my team, it’s like a family. Road has given me the most exposure and has paid consistently and the racing is more dynamic and ever changing. But don’t get me wrong, I love going fast around those wooden tracks!!!! What a rush!

LB: Crits, Circuit or Stage Races?

LH: ALL please!!! I freaking love racing my bike! It’s not just the courses that are challenging; it’s the racers and the race dynamics. So it could be a flat, boring square but with the right group of racers – it’s awesome!

LB: What is your favorite thing to do when you are not racing?

LH: Family time for sure. I love it when we are all together, cracking jokes on each other, my niece and nephew running around and we are telling stories and having a drink. On a more personal level, I enjoy playing the guitar, hanging out with friends and working in the yard. Then when 5 o’clock rolls around it’s time for an adult beverage.

LB: Are you a classically trained or self-trained guitarist? Electric or acoustic? What type of music to do you enjoy playing? Does Allison Kraus, or for that matter Kacey Musgraves, Joni Mitchell, or the Indigo Girls, need to worry? Are there vocals involved?

LH: I had a friend teach me how to play in college, acoustic all the way. I used to love to learn how to play Dave Matthews, he has such a unique chord selection! But I love to play Merle Haggard, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Hank Jr., Jimmy Buffett, songs like that. Songs that you can sing while drinking lots of beer 🙂 No vocals unless we are ALL singing! I don’t want the dogs to start howling.

LB: What is your favorite Dave Matthews song? If you had to choose one person to accompany you on a Dave Matthews tune, who do you choose, Dave or Tim Reynolds?

LH: OK, these questions just get harder and harder!! Favorite Dave M. song? That’s impossible!!!! But some of my top favorites(I’m actually listening to him right now): So Damn Lucky, his remake of Long Black Veil, I’ll Back You Up, Lie In Our Graves, Two Step and of course Ants Marching(one of my first songs of his I learned). And to choose between Dave and Tim, probably Dave, just because these are all his songs for sure. Even though Tim can play a guitar till the strings fall off!

For more on Lauren, read Part I of the interview or follow her exploits on her personal blog or on Twitter.

Photos: Ten Speed Hero (top); © Casey B Gibson (bottom)