The First Rapha Women’s Prestige Race – On 4 wheels, not 2.

On Saturday, April 7th, Rapha’s San Francisco Cycle Club was host to the first ever Women’s Prestige Race.  In the same vein as the Gentlemen’s races (RGR), the Women’s Prestige Race took teams of 6 riders across road, rock and mountain, challenging not only riders physical abilities but also their wits and wills. 

Having ridden in a Gentlemen’s Race previously, I had a glimpse of what lied ahead for the ladies queuing up at the Cycle Club.  I could feel the tension, sense the eagerness and hear the excitement.  It made me want to pedal my bike.  However, on this day I was there to provide support (both mechanical and emotional) for the ladies along their route.   I had the Studio Velo Sprinter van loaded up with water, tubes, tires and tools.  Each team was given a card outlining the route and a Garmin 800 to guide them on their adventure and track all their vital stats.  Stating times were staggered in six minute intervals, based on teams overall ability and experience, with the least experienced team starting first and the most experienced team starting in the last spot.

And just like every “officially unofficial” race, there are no marshals and no signs pointing the way, so it was up to the ladies to find their way through Marin and back to the Cycle Club.  Races like this are the ultimate test of teamwork.  It’s not the team with the strongest riders that wins; it’s the team who works best together that will emerge victorious.  Each team needs to start and finish together, so individual glory does not exist.  Communication is key and teamwork is truly tested.

Unlike any Rapha Race I have ever seen, the riding conditions were absolutely ideal.  Minimal wind, comfortable temperatures and not a cloud in sight.  The stage was set for a perfect day on the road.  After the last team head left, Derrick (our Rapha Strategic Accounts Manager) and I fired up the sprinter van and headed north across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Our first stop was on top of Mt. Tam, at the end of Railroad Grade fire trail.  If there was a part of the course that had the highest likely hood of mechanicals, this was the spot.  The women pedaled smoothly though, and the rocky fire road only claimed a few flats.  All we had to do was cheer the ladies on and provide a water stop.  Morale was high, gaps were forming, and the ladies pedaled on.  Over Mt. Tam, across the ridge and down to Alpine Dam. 

After all the teams were clear of the dirt section, we got back in the van and back on course.  Some of the teams began working together as the roads opened up a bit, as the chase was on and the pace picked up.  The terrain was rolling and the race was in full swing.  The next refueling stop would be at Rancho Nicasio where the teams could get an idea of the time gaps.  Some of the teams worked quickly and efficiently to refuel, some were taking in the whole scene.  No matter what the approach, they all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The next big challenge for the ladies would be the Marshall Wall.  The folks at Strava had set up the QOM for the course here, and the ladies were gunning for a little glory on the mountain.  Strategy played a role here, and despite the tired legs, teams were launching their strongest climbers up the climb for the glory.  At the top of the climb was an aid station set up by the folks at Strava.  Oranges, beef jerky, water and Peeps were all offered up.  The only thing that was more impressive than this fine spread was the view offered up by the combination of crystal clear skies, bright blue water, rolling green hills and a complete absence of fog.

We were called into action to fix a quick mechanical at the base of the Wall, but other than that, the ladies were self-sufficient.  Our role turned towards providing moral support more than mechanical support.  The once cheerful, focused and energetic groups of ladies were shifting to quiet, tired, and sometimes bickering and divided teams.  The race was taking its toll, physically and mentally.  I remember those moments so well.

This is where the strongest teams showed their colors and made up ground.  As we drove south along Route 1, we could see the agony setting in.  As we passed each team, honking and cheering, the response had switched from waving arms and some hollers to barely an acknowledgment.  The winds seem stronger, the climbs seem longer, the bumps seem bigger. The day was taking its toll.

In the end,  the women riders made their way back to the Cycle Club to celebrate their arduous day on the road and to celebrate the essence of team work. It was an interesting day for me to take on the SAG role and not compete in a Rapha race but I was honored to help support all of the ladies of the first annual Rapha Women’s Prestige Race here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Great work ladies. See you next year! 


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