A few short years ago, Kristen Faulkner was firmly embedded in the world of high finance.
This weekend, the Homer native will be leading a team in the Tour de France Femmes, a women’s race fans hope will establish itself as an equivalent challenge to the historic men’s race.
Faulkner, 29, is set to captain Team BikeExchange-Jayco in the eight-day race starting Sunday. In 2016, Faulkner hadn’t even run a competitive race. But since going professional in 2020, she has quickly become one of the sport’s elite riders.
“I’ve just started to see my performance and my technique and my fitness all improve at a pretty steady, consistent rate,” she said in an interview this week. “I’m still new enough that I don’t know exactly what races (I’m best in). My coaches and team, they put me in a lot of different types of races to give me lots of opportunities to kind of figure that out.
“But I have enough experience that I can still perform. I’m in this really great phase right now I’m really enjoying.”
The women’s Tour de France went through a number of iterations as a stage race in the 1980s before fizzling out. Since then, there have been single-day races, but Faulkner believes this is an opportunity to launch a stage race under the Tour de France banner that will stick.
“It’s a really big deal because we think it’s here to stay,” she said. “They’ve dabbled with it on and off several times. But I think now, it’s not going to go anywhere. It’s a really big deal for for women.”
Faulkner went to high school at Phillips Academy in Massachusetts, where she competed as a runner, swimmer and rower. She graduated from Harvard with a degree in computer science and continued rowing competitively.
After graduating, Faulkner moved to New York City to start working. She missed both the competition she experienced in college and the outdoors element she grew up around in Alaska.
After eight months of making daily trips to Central Park to run, Faulkner signed up for a women’s introductory cycling clinic.
“I found that I really enjoyed cycling,” she said. “There was a community element to it that I didn’t have in running. I just did the clinic and a few weeks later I did my first race, then I did my second race and my 10th race and my 20th race — and the rest is history.”
From there she progressed to a local team, and by 2018, she’d moved to San Francisco and started racing more. She eventually joined a local pro team.
At first she tried to combine her fledgling cycling career with her work at Threshold Ventures. Like many employers, the company allowed employees to work remotely during the pandemic.
Since there wasn’t much racing going on in the U.S. early in the pandemic, in fall 2020 she headed to Europe, where racing had restarted. From there she worked remotely for the venture capital firm while trying to launch her cycling career. Faulkner said it was the most difficult time of her professional life.
“I was doing a finance job working 25 hours a week on phone calls and Zoom meetings,” she said. “I’d wake up at 6 (a.m.) to respond to work emails. And then I’d go race a stage race, come home and have dinner and get on Zoom for more for calls and board meetings, do some finance research in Excel and then go to bed at midnight, and wake up and do all over again.”
“I think my teammates didn’t really understand,” she said. “It made me seem less dedicated because I wasn’t really all in, the way they were.”
But despite the strain of juggling both endeavors, she had posted strong enough results that in February 2021, she left her job to focus on racing.
“Once I committed full time to racing, I improved a lot,” she said. “I was just able to focus more on my training or my recovery. I can put into running courses more. I can study my competition. I can just invest time and actually do the job.”
In fall 2021, she signed a two-year deal with Team BikeExchange-Jayco, which will keep her with the squad at least through 2023.
After a series of strong runs this spring, Faulkner was installed as team leader for the Tour de France. She won two stages at the Italian Giro Donne, including a climbing stage.
“The goal is to have me win the overall,” she said. “I haven’t had that responsibility or opportunity on the team at any of the big stage races.”
Faulkner nearly had to miss this week’s race after contracting COVID, but in a Friday message on Twitter, she announced she’s ready to go.
The race will be extra special for Faulkner. Her parents, Sara and Jon Faulkner, will be at the race, visiting from Alaska. They operate the Lands End Resort in Homer, so a summer vacation is a rare treat.
“They’re usually really busy in the summertime running, so they don’t ever really take a vacation in the summer,” she said. “This is the first time in years that they’ve ever taken any time off in the summer. So yeah, it’s really special that they get to watch.”
Race fans can follow Faulkner by downloading GCN, the Global Cycling Network app.