Lauren Tamayo (UnitedHealthcare) crossed the finish line at the US Criterium Championships with a one-arm salute after pushing a late-race breakaway and then securing the victory in Greenville, South Carolina. With the stars-and-stripes jersey still fresh on her back, she made a surprise announcement that she would be retiring after a nearly 20-year career in women’s cycling.
“I had been thinking about retirement for a while, and I knew coming into the season that this would be my last,” Tamayo told Cyclingnews days later as she boarded a flight to the Joe Martin Stage Race from her hometown of Asheville, North Carolina.
“I’m 32, and I know that that isn’t that old, but I’ve been racing for 20 years, and professionally for 15. I’ve done track and road Worlds, and all the major races in Europe, gone to the Olympics and won a medal - I’ve achieved just about everything that I can imagine in my career.
“I’m at that point in life where I’m ready to do something else, take on new challenges, and not have cycling consume my life anymore.”
Tamayo grew up just outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and found her roots in bike racing at the Lehigh Valley Velodrome (now called the Valley Preferred Cycling Center) in nearby Trexlertown. As a youth rider, she mixed track and road racing, which gave her valuable skills when she finally made the transition to a professional road team at 18 years old.
Having already been competing for over five years, Tamayo entered the women’s professional peloton with a knowledgeable and seasoned disposition. Tamayo, and her now husband, Mike Tamayo, launched their own women’s UCI trade team; Victory Brewing, which stemmed from their kick-starter women’s program sponsored by Amorosos in the early 2000s. That team went on to build a successful women’s program until it eventually folded in 2006.
Tamayo went on to race for other American-based UCI teams Lipton, Tibco, and Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12, before joining the UnitedHealthcare women’s program, also managed by Mike.
During the last six seasons, Tamayo made a partial switch back to track racing, and with ample success. She was a member of the women’s team pursuit team, which also included Sarah Hammer, Jennie Reed, and Dotsie Bausch, that earned a silver medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Becuase of her focus on the track, she moved into a captain's/worker's role on the road team, a new position that she enjoyed.
“I was so focused on the track, and with the pressure of performing on the track, it was nice to come to the road season and give the team my knowledge and experience, and a different kind of pressure,” Tamayo said.
“The past six or seven years were so dedicated to the track, and focusing on my personal goals and results there. The road has been more about helping the team with tactics, leading the team, helping the girls and making sure we met the overall goals.”
It’s no wonder, then, that her recent, and surprise, victory at the US Criterium Championship has taken its time to sink in, “It’s still a bit surreal,” Tamayo laughed.
She is no stranger to winning bike races on her own, having won multiple junior and under-23 national titles in both track and road racing, but the criterium victory in Greenville was her first senior championships title.
“I haven’t won an elite road title before,” Tamayo said. “The criterium was my first. It wasn’t until three laps to go that I realized the gap might stick, and I started thinking to myself, ‘I don’t remember the last time I’ve been in this position, where I’ve had to think about winning a race’.
“I couldn’t let the girls down because we had such a great race up until that point. I knew I had to perform, or I wouldn’t be able to face the girls after, if I didn’t deliver the win. It was completely unexpected. I was a little bit emotional after I won.”
Tamayo expressed an elatedness over the fact that she had won her first senior title during the closing of her career. In fact, she classed the result alongside her top-three career highlights and memories.
“I will always cherish wearing the stars-and-stripes for my last year of racing,” Tamayo said.
Other fond memories include winning the silver medal at the London Olympic Games as a member of the women’s team pursuit team and winning the under-23 competition’s Miji Reoch Award at the former Liberty Classic World Cup in Philadelphia.
“The Olympics will always be my biggest lasting memory,” she said. “There aren’t very many people in the world who get to experience the Olympics as an athlete. It was such an amazing experience, and it will always be at the top of my list.
“Going back to when I first started in the professional peloton as an 18-year-old, I have fond memories of racing against the Saturn and Auto Trader teams, all those teams that were so impactful on women’s cycling 15 years ago.
“My earliest and proudest memory was winning the under-23 award in Philadelphia when it was still a World Cup, and such an international field. It was one of those memories that defined me as a rider and gave me the confidence to pursue cycling as a career.”
Tamayo still has plenty of racing left this year with a full season of events on the USA Cycling Pro Road Tour from April through June, and she will compete at the US Road Championships in Winston-Salem in May.
Asked if she had any end-of-career goals, she said, “I don’t. For me, this year was all about continuing to grow the women’s team and giving them the confidence in going forward. I wanted to continue my leadership role on the team. I had no specific goals, so of course, wearing the stars-and-stripes for the remainder of the season is a nice way to close out my last year.”
What’s next for Tamayo? Some in the cycling community have begun following her new Youtube video blog: Sailing Unspoken, that details her and Mike’s adventures with sailing off the coast of Florida, their new pastime away from cycling.
“Sailing, for us, is appealing because we can take our boat to all these exciting places, and we have that freedom and flexibility to pick up and go to see these uninhabited islands. Sailing is just fun and adventurous.”
What most don’t know about Tamayo is that she recently became licensed as a general contractor, and she and Mike are set to launch their new construction business LMT Homes in Asheville. “That will keep me very busy,” she said.
Tamayo won't completely disconnect from women's cycling, and said she plans to stay involved in both a general sense and through helping the UnitedHealthcare women’s team further develop.
“Women’s cycling has been my life for the past 20 years, and it’s given me all these amazing opportunities and experiences that I would never have had otherwise.
“Building women’s programs has been a team effort for Mike and I. We’ve created a lot of memories; a lot of good times, a lot of bad times, it will always be a huge part of our lives.”