2019 Rapha Women’s Prestige: Boulder, Colorado
The rules are simple: start as a team, pass through all checkpoints together, finish as a team.
On a steamy July day in Boulder, Colorado, I set out with Leslie Ethridge, Sara Liebert, and Lizzie Newsom on a quest: have fun, ride hard, look good.
: an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks
Over the course of 81 miles — half gravel, half pavement — crossing such iconic climbs as SuperJames, Brainard Lake, Peak to Peak Highway, and Chapman Off-Road, 8 teams of 4 women accumulated 8,000 feet of elevation gain, all at Colorado altitude.
During the more than 6-hours of riding, we cycled through all kinds of emotions, but most often were laughing and cheering each other on. At one point, despite 3 of us living in the area, our team realized we were down a road that none of us had been on before. Unknown risks really are best tackled together.
: work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole
Heat, wind, rain, slick descents. And tunes. Leslie mounted a portable speaker to the front of her bars, so our day could be soundtracked by Lizzo and Katy Perry. In other words, perfection on wheels.
When we set out, most of us had never met. When we finished, we were truly a team. We focused on strengths instead of weaknesses, and pulled each other through numerous tough climbs. And it turns out, with a positive attitude, enough Nuun hydration, and good music, you set PRs without noticing. You find yourself at 80 miles before you’d planned. You win.
: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
The first half of the course involved most of the heavy climbing — up to Brainard Lake at 10,300 feet. There was a refueling station that involved popsicles, cold towels, mini Cokes, and pickles. It’s remarkable how crushed one can feel, and then how quickly things can turn around. Five minutes off the bike with words of encouragement and a little sugar / salt fix, and onward with smiles — glad to be coasting down to a mere mile-high.
At the beginning of the day, teams departed just a few minutes apart, so we crossed paths several times throughout the course. After an intimidating 3-mile descent in the rain toward the end of the day, 3 teams regrouped at the bottom. Someone said, “For a minute there it was like the whole world was just women cyclists.” And it was true: the day was made even more powerful because it was all women. Organized and cheered on by the legendary Meredith Miller, photographed by Natalie Starr, the whole experience was a mantra of, “we can do anything.” And we did.
The day ended on blankets at a park back in Boulder. Cold beverages, gigantic burritos, sweet watermelon. And as often happens when recounting epic experiences on the bike, the pain quickly fades and strength stands out. I’d gladly get back on the bike with these women — eye of the tiger, fighters, all of us.