Lauren Kitchen retires from pro peloton
Lauren Kitchen announced today that she will retire from professional cycling with immediate effect. The 30-year-old Australian from Port Macquarie, New South Wales still had one and half years on her contract with FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope but feels like this is the right time to hang up her wheels. “People see how happy I am right now so I feel it had to be like this,” she said.
Kitchen crashed in Navarra in July of 2020, in the first post-COVID break race. She broke her collarbone but also sustained a concussion. It took a long time to return but she came back, like she did with many injuries. However, in this year’s Oxyclean Brugge-De Panne at the end of March she felt that something had changed.
“I realized after the race I was feeling down. I was physically okay and had no effects from that concussion but mentally I had trouble moving up in the peloton as you often do after crashes. I feel that you can overcome everything with the right mindset but this race was the first time that I thought: ‘do I want to come back?’ I started to ask myself this question and that resulted in a subconscious mental block,” she tells Cyclingtips.
It was the first time Kitchen had these thoughts. Stephen Delcourt, her team manager, granted her some time to think it over. In that same time frame after De Panne, Kitchen got a call from Sydney to have a talk about a high-level job in town planning.
“Town planning is what I studied and I found myself really excited about this call. There was no job offer attached, just a call, but the excitement got me thinking. I had an open and honest chat with Stephen. Breaking my contract and leaving the team is a big thing to me but I also feel that if your head and your passion are not 100% in it, it’s not good for me or the team.”
Kitchen decided to go with her feeling and explore this new possibility. “When I contacted family in the Netherlands ten years ago to see if they knew a team for me, I had no plan. I ended up with the best team of the world [Rabobank]. I had no plan coming to Europe and now I have no plan going back to Australia. I am a planner by nature so it’s hard not to have a plan but I also learned during this weird last year to follow my feeling. People see how happy I am and I am grateful to go out on my own terms.”
Kitchen’s career started with a seventh place at the junior world championships in Aguascalientes, Mexico in 2006. She represented Australia at four elite world championships and takes pride in being part of the team supporting Amanda Spratt to bronze in Harrogate 2019.
She rode for the Australian Institute of Sports, Rabobank, Wiggle, Hitec Products, WM3 and since 2018 for the French FDJ women’s team. She took on the role of mentor and team captain on the very young team.
“I learned over the years that reading a race and tactics are my strong suit, more than my actual results. I would take huge joy out of teaching the young riders how to ride an echelon but would also discuss with staff on how to support us. I think that is what I brought to my last teams and I hope that’s what they remember me for.”
Kitchen looks back fondly at her time with Norwegian team Hitec Products where she learned a lot. When she thinks of her most precious career memory it’s not one of her victories, like the 2011 Australian criterium championships, the Oceania Championships in 2015, the Ronde van Overijssel in that same year or the GP Isbergues, her last pro win, in 2018.
“It was Strade Bianche back in 2016. Many people including myself thought I didn’t have that in me but I pushed myself further and further. That 9th place is a fond memory,” she says.
Kitchen hopes to stay involved in cycling. She already trains and mentors young riders and wants to play a role in the development of young Australian riders.
“The gap between Europe and Australia is getting bigger and bigger. Sarah Gigante [who got selected for the Olympic team] will get there. She will make it but there isn’t much development now with Cycling Australia. I was 18 when I did my first Giro d’Italia. I stayed two seasons with AIS and benefited hugely from that. I want to help with the development of the new generation.”
Lauren Kitchen sure hopes to get that job in town planning building a new city from the ground up near the airport of Sydney but with her experience in the international peloton since 2006 she will also be a formidable force in developing the new generation of Australian women in the peloton.