The more I ride bikes, the more I love them.
And, thus the harder it is to turn down opportunities to ride them epically, and for good causes.
Last weekend, a group of 120 ladies (myself included) gathered at the Rapha Cycle Club in the heart of San Francisco for one such opportunity; the second annual, unofficial, unsanctioned, unsupported 123 mile road race on a challenging and exciting course out of the city, and into the cycling mecca beyond to be completed by invited teams of 6-ladies each. The winner could have many faces; the team with the fastest time, the first team across the line, the last team across the line, and – of course, every team in between just for finishing the course. The only real rules were that you must self-support, you must follow the set course, and you must complete that course – every step of the way – as a team.
This was set to be (and having finished it now I am sure) a tough-girls ride. There is no roving mechanic, no course markings, no aid stations or even permission from the authorities to run the race so if you should run into a cop out there -all matchy with your group of girls, flying along in a paceline – you were going to have to explain why you had grease on your face and under your nails, an entire refrigerator of food stuffed into your back jersey pockets, and why you were breaking the speed limit in a residential area. On your bike. Literally.
This is just the type of thing that women’s cycling needs – a good excuse to REALLY get out there. The sport of cycling is now, and has always been dominated by men. It might always be. This race is special because we ladies needn’t contend with the intensity of both a battle of sexes and bikes (which absolutely exists out there), and because, unlike other races and events designed for women, it begs that we be bad-ass, get dirty, and squirm a bit. That we chip our nail polish, that we swear and spit, and that we are unafraid to get down with it all. Beer and bike gear are our victory medals at the end — no Tiffany necklaces here — even if we all wouldn’t mind that sort of thing. The point is that those that arrive on this Rapha starting line would ride for nothing but the experience, the opportunity to prove to ourselves that we’re hard-core and to commemorate and pay respect to the other hard-core ladies that we meet out there. And that is souvenir enough as it is.
Racing more than 100 miles is something that I’ve done a few times now, but not in a while, and never like this. My teammates – a motley but credentialed crew of lady riders from around the Bay area – were in this same boat: All of the girls had raced on the road before, all in Catagories 1-3, and then there was me. The triathlete who wedges cycling in between those other two blasphemous sports. 🙂 I had some representing to do, and with a majority of the endurance racing experience on the team, I had to set a pace that would keep us on track, sane, and as close to the front as we could get. And, I hadn’t been on a ride of more than 60 miles since last summer. Ahem. (This is to say that realistically, I had no business riding 120 miles out of the blue, much less “racing” them.)
Needless to say, there were some nerves bumping around in the days as we waited for the release of the course (which occurs on the Tuesday before a Saturday race,) sprouted from the seed of question — how deep would we have to dig to get this thing DONE?
Let’s just say deep enough.
Deep enough to climb nearly 13,000ft in and around the Marin Headlands, to endure 20mph winds on the flat stretches between Stinson Beach and Bolinas, to maintain all balance in the nearly 3 mile off-road section that wound its way up and over the top of Mount Tam, and to fix a flat on a windy incline (the only one of the day, amazingly) in just 2 minutes. Deep enough to eat more gel, and Peanut Butter Beast Bars than anyone would ever want to eat in a day (of course, I whipped up a batch for our jersey pockets!)
We pulled into the finish line in 8:55 – just 3 minutes off the team ahead (whom won the 20 bottles of champagne that each of the 20 teams provided as entry fee.) Having barely ridden together before, I couldn’t be more proud of how we completed this challenge — as a team of women, driven. We communicated, we persevered. We looked out for one another, and cheered one another on. We listened, we talked, and most of all, we were not afraid to get out there and try, and – really – to agree that we were going to be anything, and everything but be realistic on this day. It paid off.
All week, as we – the One Seven Cycling six -pinch ourselves and remind one another that the race actually happened – that we got to literally have this very drawn out bicycle dream last weekend – we have exchanged sentiments of how proud we are of one another. I think it is safe to say that those whom weren’t so sure they ever wanted to get themselves into this kind of 120 mess would do so again in a heartbeat, and we were all surprised by just how fun getting your soul whipped on a bike could be. I’d ride with these ladies anywhere. And I cannot wait to do so again.
The photos featured here are the work of Nick Kova – photographer and one of the founders of One Seven Cycling. Enjoy more of his work here: http://nickkova.com/
Nick, along with Helena and Jon of One Seven Cycling were out on the course dancing in banana suits, taking shots, making us laugh, and ensuring that no matter how we finished, we would have FUN. And for this, we are absolutely indebted.