At the start of 2020, Lauretta Hanson was forced to stand on the sidelines, unable to take part in any of the Australian summer events, where she relished racing in front of family and friends, thanks to what initially seemed like a minor accident but manifested as a concussion which took five months to recover from.
The start of 2021 could hardly have been a bigger contrast. Instead of being a spectator as the battles unfolded in front of her Hanson was out on the road and not just making up numbers, but helping make the races.
Her season started in January with the national squad, Team Garmin Australia, at the Santos Festival of Cycling, where they won the event with Sarah Gigante, and took three of the four stages. The 26-year-old Victorian rider then moved onto the Australian Road Championships in early February, where her tireless efforts chasing at the front during the criterium helped keep the race together for a bunch sprint so new Trek-Segafredo teammate Chloe Hosking could secure a spot on the podium.
Then there was the elite road race, where instead of just hanging on as the peloton made its way around a hilly course not suited to the sprinter, Hanson took off alone on the very first climb, initiating the race-winning first lap break. She joyfully held on for third, behind breakaway companion Sarah Roy (Team BikeExchange) and Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) who charged out of the peloton in the latter stages of the race.
The huge and immovable grin on her face clearly demonstrated just how much it meant to go from the sideline one year to the podium of the Australian Road Championships the next. In fact, it may have even been the forced time off the bike as she recovered that just helped make her bronze medal in the national title race a reality.
“I felt pretty lost when I couldn’t ride and it made me appreciate the opportunities that I had and just how much I do love racing,” Hanson told Cyclingnews. “I remember sitting back and watching the road race last year and feeling left out … it stoked the fire a little bit.
“It just reminded me how much I do really enjoy riding my bike and how much I love being out there racing so that might have been part of what drove my motivation on that Sunday,” said Hanson, who accepted her bronze medal in front of a crowd including her mother, who 30 years ago herself stood on the road race podium to accept the title win.
There were other motivating factors working in the determined rider’s favour too, from the cool and rainy conditions that Hanson favours to riding with new teammate Hosking – who was determined they be aggressive and make the race rather than be relegated to making up numbers on a Nationals course that doesn’t suit – and a rare chance to take an opportunity for herself.
Hanson made the most of that opportunity, leaping out the front on the very first climb, and after a group of five others swelled around her, even the efforts at the front to drive the pace weren’t enough to dampen the joy. She was smiling and acknowledging the onlookers cheering her on and at one stage, from a distance, it even sounded like she was shouting to friends along the course ‘woohoo I’m up the front at Nationals’. Whatever the words actually were, the jubilation was clear.
“I just had a really good day,” said Hanson. “I felt strong in myself and really excited and happy to be racing and to be out the front with such a strong breakaway as well and to have so much such support around the course. I had people cheering my name on all corners and I was just giving them a smile and a wave. I was having fun.
“I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t taking it seriously enough, but I wasn’t expecting to be going to the line. It was still nice, I was relaxed and enjoying racing. It was a really fun race to be a part of and usually I finish that course and I am absolutely broken and maybe slightly demoralised after being dropped, and this time, yes, I was absolutely broken by the time I got to the finish, but obviously really excited to come away with a medal.”
Embracing the miserable conditions
Hanson, who packed her bags and left behind the family farm in rural Victoria to head to Europe this week, said that as much as she enjoys and is happy to be working for her teammates, she hopes it also won’t be the last time she’s standing on a podium this year. The bronze during the Australian summer of racing at Nationals was the first top three result since 2018 for the dedicated team player, who is surrounded by a deep pool of talented riders at Trek-Segafredo.
“It’s now going to be my third year in Europe. The first two years I’ve really been able to learn a lot from Trek-Segafredo, but if an opportunity presents itself, I’m at that point that I’m ready to take that, so we will see what happens. It kind of depends how races play out and what opportunities come my way but I think some of the later season races, maybe Ardeche or the Lotto Belgium Tour, they are races where I might be able to get a chance,” said Hanson. “I would love to be standing on a podium at some point this year while overseas.”
Hopefully, too, it will be her first full season in Europe. That seemingly innocuous crash into a ditch of blackberries at the Tour of Norway in 2019 cut into two seasons, leaving her completely off the bike for two months, with at times debilitating symptoms if she tried to ride, and facing another three months of slowly working back to the point where she was cleared for training. Then, just as she was getting packed to return to Europe in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the season.
The Australian rider, who also spent a number of years racing in the United States, then instead returned for the season restart, ready to race. Thanks to the careful recovery process with the unstinting support of her team, family and friends, Hanson is now facing up to another season completely symptom free and with every reason to be optimistic about the year ahead.
“I’ve got quite a few classics on my calendar which I’m really looking forward to getting underway,” said Hanson, who will start racing at Le Samyn and tackle some flatter Classics as well as the Healthy Ageing Tour.
“I obviously really enjoy the Classics, the conditions, and they are races that suit me. That was another thing about Nationals, it was cold, it was wet and kind of miserable. They are my kind of conditions. A lot of people tend to switch off when the conditions get a little nasty, but that is where I come into my own so I’m looking forward to going to Belgium and racing those tougher Classics where it is windy and wet, nasty and, maybe it is a bit twisted, but I find that sort of racing quite fun,” said Hanson.
“It’s a mental and physical challenge and that’s something I embrace.”