Meet Lauretta Hanson: ‘I enjoy helping others win as much as myself’
José Been chats with one of Trek-Segafredo's most valued support riders.
José Been chats with one of Trek-Segafredo's most valued support riders.
When I started at CyclingTips my mission statement was to introduce the women of the peloton to you. Not only the big stars and those who win races, but also those who aren’t normally in the spotlight but that have an amazing and inspiring story to tell. Lauretta Hanson is one of those riders.
When I’m training in the Netherlands I sometimes see Hanson out on the roads. She often stays here when she races in Belgium and the Netherlands. We recently met up at a lovely riverside café where she shared her story and vision on life and cycling.
“My mum’s family used to be cyclists and my mum was Australian national champion in 1981,” she tells me. “When she was racing there weren’t opportunities outside of Australia and she went on to choose a career in nursing. When I was only five years old my granddad, her father, was killed at a local club race and then my family moved on from cycling entirely for a while.”
Hanson is a strong rider who, in races, either seems to be smiling or grimacing in pain. She grew up in Fern Hill in rural Victoria, Australia on a cattle farm with three siblings. Playing outside and racing around the property on bikes was the normal daily routine in the small town she was born in. To this day her knee bears the scar of a mountain bike crash she had as a kid.
“We had a great time as kids on the farm,” she explains. “We had so much space roaming around and riding bikes on the property. Cycling is the same feeling of being free. It’s exploring. Cycling gives you the opportunity to see the world. I have seen more of the world that I expected to ever see and that’s largely due to my cycling career.”
Hanson eventually picked up a race bike and joined her cousin at a local club to race when she was eight years old. Her mum, protective after her own career and the death of her father, knew she couldn’t stop young Lauretta but advises her to this day to be careful.
“She therefore loves the bright fluoro yellow training kit we get to wear at Trek-Segafredo,” Hanson says with a loving smile. “She is a big advocate of visibility.”
Before we end up at her current role in one of the biggest women’s professional teams, we go back only eight years to the first beginnings of a cycling career that started in the United States – a career Hanson herself never really anticipated.
“When I was 18, I was supposed to travel to the USA to race criteriums with my Australian club team,” she explains. “They pulled out last minute but I just thought: why not? I was planning on racing crits for a month but then landed a scholarship for a college in Tennessee in June of 2014. I started to build a bit of a reputation and joined a team called the Fearless Femmes. I raced with them in the US and Canada and then via [UnitedHealthcare] came to Trek. I had momentum and kept rolling but I never expected it to end up here.”
Hanson joined Trek-Segafredo in 2019 and has since made a name for herself as a reliable support rider. She has been instrumental in many of the team’s wins.
“Coming from an America-based team it was a bit of adjustment,” she says of the move from UHC. “Trek-Segafredo is a much bigger setup than I was used to but this team helps me to thrive and reach my potential. There are a lot of resources and support and there is no question about your value as an athlete.
“I also realize more and more what I am capable of now myself. I got a bit older and established myself more in the European peloton. In my team I am still learning what I am capable of. My teammates are incredibly supportive. We all recognize we might not have it right today but it is never for a lack of trying.
“We recognize we are professionals. Whether you want to do certain jobs or not, in the end it’s your job and you do it.”
Trek-Segafredo is one of the sport’s nine Women’s WorldTour teams which means there are minimum salaries for all riders. Unfortunately this is not mandatory for other women’s teams where riders often have to work a job in addition to being an athlete, or rely on family to get by.
“Having a salary helps make you a better bike rider, I think,” Hanson says. “It takes away the stress and you can focus on what makes you the best bike rider you can be. When I started, I still worked at a bike shop in Australia which I enjoyed but there were some things lacking in my career as a cyclist. There was no time for proper stretching or recovery. I couldn’t afford a physiotherapist or massage all the time. Not having the financial stress enables you to become a better athlete.
“Some women are forced to make a decision between a normal career or a cycling career. My mum is an example. She couldn’t continue in cycling because there was no money and she chose to become a nurse. There is now a reward for being a pro cyclist. I think that more girls start cycling now there is a reward.
“Younger riders also value themselves more. It’s about self-esteem and thinking how you are worth more. On the other hand, this is professional sport and you are expected to behave that way. It also comes with expectations. It’s a job now and you have to take care of yourself as an athlete.”
Hanson is a strong domestique and usually selflessly fulfils her role enabling others to have a shot at the win. In the most recent edition of the Healthy Ageing Tour in the Netherlands this is exactly what she did for Ellen van Dijk who eventually won the race with only a few seconds to spare.
“The development of the sport shows that domestiques are needed, but it’s a bit chicken and egg,” Van Dijk tells me. “Domestiques were always needed but there was never a salary for them. Everyone tried to get results to get a place on a team. Therefore, there was less interest in riding for another rider. Minimum salaries now enable this role. It’s a hugely important task that doesn’t get the spotlights.
“Lauretta is very valuable. She is always where she needs to be. She does what she needs to do and is super strong. It’s not [that] she is a domestique [because] she is not as strong. On the contrary. In smaller teams she could get her own results but it’s a choice she made and that is great for us as a team.
“In the final stage of the Healthy Ageing Tour where I was defending the yellow jersey, Lauretta was in the breakaway and then counterintuitively she had to drop back and get that same breakaway back for my chances. She always gives her all and without riders like her you just don’t win races.
“She is loyal on and off the bike. She is always happy and will never complain. These personalities are important on a team.”
With women’s cycling getting more professional every year the dynamics of racing are slowly changing. There is specialization now for some races or blocks of races but also for certain roles. In the most recent edition of the Tour of Norway we saw two breakaway riders hold it to the finish line. There was no organized chase behind them helped by support riders. During the Olympic Games we saw that bringing four champions on one team didn’t get the Dutch squad the gold medal most anticipated.
In short, the sport is changing and Hanson is glad for it.
“Other women told me there isn’t a place in women’s pro cycling for a professional domestique and historically in women’s cycling you never got a contract if you weren’t a winner,” Hanson says. “Now teams see more and more they need dedicated riders to help other wins. I enjoy helping others win as much as myself.
“A lot of the time people at home will ask me how my race went. Having coverage makes such a big difference for riders like me. You can now see the other players than those in the top 10 of the results. You can see the story of the race now. I hope this makes younger riders realize there is a place for domestiques and that it’s not all about the winners.”
During the racing season Hanson lives in Girona and in Stolwijk, a tiny village in the west of the Netherlands. She comes across as mature but she is still only 26 years of age. Travelling abroad at the young age of 18 and spending a lot of time away from home accelerates that process of growing up.
Like most riders from New Zealand and Australia she struggles with the challenges that come with the COVID pandemic and the mandatory quarantine travellers face. In 2020 she managed to return home but this year she is not sure it will possible.
“It’s pretty challenging not to be able to go back,” she says. “I am very close to my family and my boyfriend lives in Australia as well. I have had years where I was away for 8-10 months but now, we don’t have the option to go back. Maybe I might not even be able to go home this year.
“Last year was already so stressful. I managed to get a flight to Perth but had to go to Melbourne. I didn’t realize at the time how stressed I was until I landed in Australia. I was completely overwhelmed and cried. It helps to have others in the same situation like Sarah Roy who is my housemate in Girona.
“On most days you think you can manage the situation but then you end up in it and emotions wash over you. Then I sit down and have a cry. Sometimes you just want a hug from mum.”
Hanson’s next race is the Simac Ladies Tour, a six-day WorldTour stage race in the Netherlands. Her biggest dream is to represent Australia, first at the world championships in Belgium at the end of September, and then at the Olympics in Paris in 2024. She feels there is place for her type of riding in the green and gold squad.
“In Australia we fill in race reviews on how we completed our role in the team,” she explains. “There is more room and appreciation for workers and domestiques within Cycling Australia. That gives me hope. The teams in the Olympics were small but they will be bigger in Paris and I have to dream. I saw the heartbreak with friends like Tayler [Wiles, when she wasn’t selected for the Tokyo Olympics]. It’s a dream. I know I am more than just an athlete and my career won’t be defined by this one race. I have other goals and I know I am valued by my team.
“I take things as they come and see what is offered to me. I have had many crossroads throughout life and each and every one could have led to another outcome. I might not have decided to go the USA with that scholarship and I now might be in Australia in a 9-to-5 job.
“I don’t know what is yet to come because the future comes at you no matter what. I am sure that’s something we all learned in the past 18 months.”