Lauren Stephens’ bicycle tire was flat, and she didn’t know how to change it. She took the hand-me-down vehicle to a bike shop, where Mat Stephens pawned the repair off on another employee so he could chat with the cute new customer.
“I had no idea he was flirting with me, but that’s what was happening,” Lauren says.
The two started going on group rides and have been training buddies — and life partners — ever since. After 10 years of marriage, their commitment to cycling is as strong as ever.
Mat ran cross country and swam in high school. He added cycling to his training schedule to compete in triathlons. When he went to college, Texas A&M didn’t have a triathlon team, but it did have a cycling club. He started riding on an amateur team that competed in races across the country.
In 2004, he entered a multi-event contest at The Superdrome in Frisco. His teammate had never ridden the venue and had crashed in warmups the day before the two-man track race. With 30 laps to go, the duo — sitting in third — went on the attack. They lapped the competition and won the race in front of Mat’s family and friends.
“We’re out there racing professionals and Olympians and looking like fools, but it was cool to be an underdog and pull off something we thought was possible but really hard,” he says.
After college, Mat got a job fitting bikes at Bicycles Plus. The job allowed him to stay connected to the industry while traveling on the weekends for a variety of road, gravel and mountain bike races. When he met Lauren, he introduced her to the world of bike racing and became her coach.
“Mat pushed me to do a triathlon, and I realized cycling was the one I really liked,” she says. “It’s hard sometimes taking criticism from him, but I would also have it no other way because I know how much he loves me. It makes me stronger and makes our relationship so strong.”
Lauren started racing on the weekends while teaching math full time at Bryan Adams High School. She cycled to work most days from their home in Old Lake Highlands, and Mat made a wooden crate that attached to the bike to hold her books.
“Students who were there at the time remember me as the bike lady,” Lauren says. “Surprisingly, they thought it was cool.”
But Lauren quickly made a name for herself in bike racing circles, and professional teams took notice. In 2013, she quit her teaching job and signed a contract to race full time for Team TIBCO Silicon Valley Bank. The competition circuit includes weeks of races in Europe, where she was riding when the pandemic hit.
Mat had flown into Milan to train with her for a race that was later canceled. By that time, Milan had stopped flights to the States, so he flew home on the last plane from Rome before the U.S. barred entry from Italy. Lauren’s season was canceled, and she met him in Oklahoma for what would be his last race of the year.
For a while, the couple didn’t even ride bikes around White Rock Lake. They pursued new hobbies, and Lauren sold sourdough bread on the corner of Lakeshore and Peavy. One weekend, the profits went to Project Echelon, a nonprofit that educates and equips veterans through physical activity.
They took up virtual racing to stay in shape when in-person events resumed. Even as a newcomer to online cycling, Lauren won two stages of the Virtual Tour de France, and her team finished first overall. She hopes to continue showing what she can do ahead of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. USA Cycling named her to the long list of 10 contenders, with the top four selected to the final team in early June.
As an elite female cyclist, Lauren can go toe-to-toe with many men. In February, the couple participated in a 12-hour mountain bike relay race. Instead of entering the co-ed category, they opted for stiffer competition in the men’s division. Lauren hustled to stay ahead of the pack, and she credits Mat for letting her skip some of the night laps. In the end, the extra effort was worth it to share a smooch at the top of the podium, she says.
“Riding together is something we’ve been doing almost since the first day we met,” Lauren says. “When I think I’ve reached the best I can be, somehow he pushes me to be better.”
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