Double X Divas: Don’t get too focused on male DNA, women have their own pro challenge.
Introducing the women’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge race
In case you didn’t know, there’s a three-day stage race for women that happens during the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, drawing some of the top female cyclists in the US and Europe, including last year’s winner Kristin Armstrong. Most likely, you didn’t know, and that’s the biggest challenge women’s cycling faces today.
“It’s fast, it’s aggressive, and it’s awesome to watch, but most people don’t realize it exists,” says Jessica Phillips, race creator and two time national champion. Increasing exposure for the women’s pro cycling circuit, which is stronger than it’s ever been, was Phillips’ motivation for putting on the race, her first, in conjunction with the USA Pro Cycling Challenge last year.
More than 40 pro women raced the Aspen/Snowmass Women’s Pro Challenge last year. The stages (which will be similar this year) included an eight-mile uphill time time trial, a 35-mile circuit race around Snowmass and a criterium in Aspen. For Philips it’s more about the quality of the race than the quantity of racers. She aims to draw the most competitive women in the field, and is restricting entry this year—no individual sign-ups, riders must have at least two other teammates. “It just makes the racing that much stronger when it’s done in teams,” Phillips says. “And that’s the caliber of women’s racing that I want to expose spectators to.”
Part of Phillips’ exposure plan includes “borrowing” fans the men’s race. “The key is getting people to see a women’s race for the first time,” she says. “Once that happens, the quality of the racing and the passion of the racers speaks for itself.”
The third stage of the women’s race, the high-speed criterium through downtown Aspen, will go off an hour and a half before the men’s stage finishes there. She’s also planning a fourth stage, either this year or next, a 20-mile hill climb up Independence Pass that would start immediately after the men come through.
Phillips isn’t the only one vehement about putting women’s cycling on the map. Lance Armstrong sponsored last year’s race, and local pros, like her husband Teejay Van Garderen and Taylor Phinney, contributed silent auction items to the race fundraiser. “The support from the cycling community has been amazing,” says Philips, “But I’ll know I’ve accomplished my goal the day I overhear a women’s name mentioned—Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck and Kristin Armstrong—when someone is rattling off the cycling superstars he or she is most excited about seeing at the Pro Challenge.”
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