Kimberley, our domestic elite spokeswoman and team organizer, recaps her challenges and victories at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
A little over one week ago I finished racing in the inaugural 3-day women’s race at the US Pro Cycling Challenge, an experience I am proud to have been a part of, regardless of my own results. Almost as soon as the race finished, I had to shift my focus to the cross-country move that is now in progress (which deserves it’s own follow-up post), and so I am now finally catching my breath and reflecting on the weekend I worked so hard to prepare for. For the first time in several months, as a passenger in a rather uncomfortable truck loaded up with everything we own, I have nothing but time.
The US Pro Cycling Challenge is a high profile race that began in Colorado five years ago, but that until this year, highlighted only men. Like the thousands of cycling fans that flooded our state to see pro tour teams race, I too trekked up Lookout to add my cheers to the sufferfest, and last year I loved having the opportunity to watch the Denver finish from the NovoNordisk tent. But unlike those other fans, for me it was bittersweet. I was thrilled to see Colorado host such a high profile race, and the community support was absolutely mind-blowing to me. The fact that I had to climb a lightpole to see over the buzzing crowd at Civic Center Park highlights this. I had no idea there were so many fans of this rather obscure sport I fell in love with. But while I was simultaneously energized by the community enthusiasm, I yearned for professional women to have their own race… our own race. As the race continued to grow each year, I was cautiously optimistic that the organizers would lend their ears to the growing voices that begged the question… “But why isn’t there a women’s race?” This wasn’t just about us bike racers wanting equality, but the community wanting to see strong women who inspire and encourage their daughters, sisters, mothers. So when almost one year ago the announcement was made that the 2015 US Pro Cycling Challenge would include a 3-day professional women’s stage race, I was thrilled.
Even then, just thinking about what this race would mean, my heart skipped a beat, and I knew without a doubt I wanted to be there. Not just watching and cheering, but racing. However, given the significance of the race, and the fact that it would be a team invite-only race, I knew that obtaining a spot would be a challenge. Pro teams would be building their strongest roster, and there would be many more riders hoping to race than teams to take them on. My heart sunk with the realization that even if I focused all my training efforts on this race, much was still outside of my control. Much like the rest of bike racing, much like the rest of life. It was right about then that I realized that rather than being discouraged or abandon this dream, I could do something about it. So early this spring I decided I wanted to develop an all-Colorado composite team to race at the inaugural women’s US Pro Cycling Challenge. If I was feeling this frustration at wanting so desperately to race but not being able to, I knew other women were too. A composite team like I was envisioning wouldn’t change the world, at least not in one race, but it would provide an incredible experience for five other hard working women.
I wrote what I hoped would be a convincing proposal, sent it off to Sean Petty, and then did my best to find the right balance of demonstrating my investment, but not being annoyingly pushy. A few months later I got the invitation I’d been anxiously waiting for, and soon everything was abuzz with excitement and planning. I was introduced to Robert Carroll, a local man who was also passionate about women’s racing, and we began collaborating to make this team the best we possibly could in a relatively short amount of time. Together we selected five other riders from three other teams, and had our first team meeting the end of June, less than two months from our first race. Between then and last Sunday, we brought on several great sponsors, including Pactimo, who crafted the amazing kits for the team, Empire Nissan, who provided professionally wrapped team cars, RAD (Real Athlete Diet) food for the weekend, rock tape, and DU’s Daniels School of Business. Alison Powers, a retired racer and former national champion in all three road disciplines, volunteered her time to serve as our team’s DS. To chronicle the extent of the time and energy poured into this project, and the people who made it happen, would make for a post longer than anyone would care to read. But suffice it to say, I am humbled at the support we received and the way people rallied together to pull this thing off so successfully.
My own race results weren’t quite what I had hoped, at least partially thanks to the over 1000 ill-timed wildfires blowing smoke into our state. The smoke-laden air proved a formidable opponent to my asthma-cursed lungs, but I did the absolute best I could given the conditions. During the Loveland to Fort Collins stage, I remember being blown away by the fact that we could barely see the mountain we were about to climb. In the four years that I’ve lived in Colorado, never once have I breathed air that bad. I didn’t achieve a top ten finish, or even a top 20… but to be quite honest, to me, the race was still a success. The team wasn’t primarily about my own results, but the culmination of months of effort for a purpose beyond myself.
This race’s success was in the costumed fans lining moonstone pass, pumping their fists in their air and cheering themselves hoarse as I suffered my way to the top. It was in the two sisters who shyly came up to me as I was warming up on the trainer before my time trial, hoping I would sign the back of their t-shirts… and in the mother who asked if I’d be willing to take a picture with her small son, who’d recently been told by a friend at school that “girls don’t do sports.” I was there, along with Olympians and world champions, to prove him wrong.
In three days of racing, I experienced the perfect platform to enhance the dialogue about how great women’s cycling is and can be when we’re given an opportunity to shine. I had the opportunity to talk with the Denver Post, was unexpectedly featured on 9news as we pinned our number before the road race, and happily talked with Boulder-based Mary Topping of ProVeloPassion about our endeavor. The fact that news sources picked up this story is because I believe it’s one worth telling, regardless of our individual results. This collaborative effort to make a place for more women in professional bike races was a success, and I think it could be a great model to be repeated at other major races such as Tour of California, Tour of Utah, etc. I was talking with a friend and mechanic who was working with Mavic for the week, who confided that he was so glad that the women’s race was filled with true racing… not a “group ride with a sprint finish,” an unfortunate stereotype that many people believe characterizes women’s racing. Although originally I was disappointed that four years had to go by before adding a women’s race, I am glad the US Pro Challenge waited until they could do it right, which they absolutely did. The women’s race was a huge success on all accounts, as the photo below illustrates. As I carefully unpinned my numbers and reflected on the previous three days, I was filled with gratitude at the whole experience, and the familiar hunger for more. I folded those paper squares, and placed them in my “numbers from favorite races” box… a favorite race indeed. And with that, my 2015 bike racing season is a wrap!