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Homer’s Kristen Faulkner switches gears to make her Olympic cycling dream come true

by | Jun 14, 2024 | Cover Story, Cycling, Olympics

Homer’s Kristin Faulkner. Photo by USA Cycling

Cyclists don’t make it to the Olympics without knowing how to change gears, and that’s why Kristen Faulkner of Homer is headed to Paris next month for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

After she failed to earn an automatic bid on the Olympic road racing team at last month’s national championships, Faulkner instantly pivoted.

She went from the road cycling championships in West Virginia to a track cycling camp in Belgium. The quick switch paid off: on Thursday, USA Cycling named Faulkner to its Olympic track cycling team, one of five women selected for the team pursuit squad.

“I dreamed of competing in the Olympics ever since I was 8 years old and I saw it on TV,” Faulkner said in a USA Cycling press release announcing the team. “This is the biggest dream I’ve ever had, and it’s finally coming true!”

That the dream came true on a velodrome instead of a road is the surprise element in what’s bound to be one of the America media’s favorite storylines in Paris: How Faulkner went from the halibut capital of the world to Harvard to Wall Street to the Olympics.

For cycling enthusiasts, the intrigue will be how Faulkner managed to change gears quickly and smoothly enough to go from the open road to the oval track.

The short version of the Faulkner origin story:

She grew up swimming, hiking and fishing in Homer before leaving home to attend a private high school in Massachusetts. She went on to Harvard, where she excelled in rowing and graduated in 2016 with a computer science degree. She worked as a venture capitalist at firms in New York and Silicon Valley, and along the way she went to a free cycling clinic, fell in love with the sport and became a pro in 2020.

The long version of Faulkner’s road-to-track pivot:

She has been one of the world’s top road racers in recent years, with one of her biggest highlights coming May 1. Faulkner used a daring breakaway to win the fourth stage of the Vuelta Espana Feminina, one of cycling’s three Grand Tours, and went on to finish second overall at the multi-stage event.

Homer’s Kristen Faulkner. Photo by Sprint Cycling

That helped make Faulkner a favorite going into the U.S. road cycling championships in mid-May in West Virginia. Women competed in a road race and a time trial, with only one Olympic berth up for grabs — in the time trial, where the winner would clinch a spot in Paris.

The time trial produced an upset. World-class triathlete Taylor Knibb won the 33.7-kilometer race, with Faulkner finishing as the runnerup, 11 seconds off the winning pace. Faulkner’s Olympic dream did not come true in West Virginia, even though a few days later she cruised to a 55-second win in the 127-kilometer national championship road race.

But Faulkner had a backup plan — the velodrome.

She added team pursuit to her 2023-24 training plans, so as soon as the national championships ended, she headed to Belgium for a track cycling camp.

In the course of a couple of weeks, Faulkner made enough of an impression that USA Cycling officials put her on the Olympic team for team pursuit.

Five women made the squad. Team pursuit consists of four riders per team, so it’s unsure which Americans will get the call once they’re in Paris.

Also unsure is who will compete for the United States in the women’s road race in Paris. The U.S. has two spots in the race, and there’s still a chance Faulkner could contend for one of them.

Typically the same athletes who compete in the time trial also compete in the road race, and for now those spots belong to Knibb and Chloe Dygert. Dygert secured her Olympic road racing berth earlier in the season and was among those named to the track cycling team on Thursday.

Dygert is accomplished in both road and track racing; she has collected multiple World Championship medals in each discipline and is a two-time Olympic medalist in team pursuit (bronze in 2020, silver in 2016).

Knibb, however, is a triathlete with very little experience in a road race. She’s expected to compete in both the women’s triathlon and the team triathlon in Paris, where she will be a medal contender — Knibb helped the United States to a bronze medal in team triathlon at the Tokyo 2020 Games, and she’s a two-time world champion in Ironman 70.3.

According to cycling.com, Knibb has never competed in an international road race and didn’t meet the Olympic points requirement for road cycling until she won the time trial at the national championships. “Given Knibb’s lack of experience racing in a peloton and her focus on the two other (triathlon) events, she may not be the best choice to represent the country in the road race,” said a story on cycling.com.

If Knibb bows out of the road race, coaches will replace her with someone already headed to Paris for track cycling or mountain biking.

And that could put Faulkner back in play for the Aug. 4 road race. The team pursuit follows on Aug. 6-7.

No matter how it all shakes out, one thing is certain: Faulkner is headed to the Summer Olympics as a member of the Team USA cycling team.

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