Off-Road Warrior Women
Team Velo Bella will join the throng of bike-partiers at Laguna Seca this weekend.
Thursday, May 12, 2005
In the wee hours, long before dawn, sporadic spurts of bright costumed athletes wearing souped-up helmets will be pedaling through the night, trailing billows of dust and darkness. The 24 Hours of Adrenalin race at Laguna Seca, one of the biggest riding events in Monterey County, is part ultimate cycling endurance test, part camping trip, part costume party.
On Friday, May 13, hordes of mountain bikers will begin scrambling up the dirt. Racers, families, friends, spectators, and sponsors will begin setting up a temporary city of tents, RVs, lawn chairs, and mobile bike repair shops.
Esther Kim, a 27-year-old software engineer from Santa Clara, is preparing for her first 24 Hours event. “I’m just trying to get all our stuff together: food, bike parts, bike clothing,” Kim says.
A member of the Monterey-originated, all-woman riding team Velo Bella, Kim began riding competitively about a year ago.
“It feels like I haven’t spent one weekend at home in such a long time,” Kim says. Two weeks ago it was the Wildflower Triathlon, and before that the biggest bike event in the country, the Sea Otter Classic, also held at Laguna Seca.
The Velo Bellas’ tent in the Sea Otter Marketplace (picture a huge flea market where each tent-stand is devoted to bikes and bikers) felt as if it’d been submerged in a giant cloud of cotton candy. The pink environment was quite overwhelming at first. Some of the women had already raced and others waited patiently for their event. The aura was laid-back compared to the unease of some other riders waiting around for their events.
Everyone was dressed in the pink, blue, and black Velo Bella uniform, and its trademark cartoon, created by the artist known as P@zzo, portraying a female figure directly out of the French New Wave cruising on her bike with a black cat peeking out impishly from the front basket. A few of the women worked their hula hoops and others danced the Macarena with furry pink hats and pink feathered scarves. Tall green-pastel glasses of pink sangría were poured and passed out to the riders who had finished for the day.
Within the microenvironment of the Velo Bellas tent, everything was alright; there were no losers.
Velo Bella was started by Laura Sanchez and Sabine Dukes in Monterey in 2001. The cycling club began with just a handful of members. There are now more than 200 Velo Bellas, including national members from as far away as Delaware, Florida, and Michigan. There are international Velo Bellas in New Zealand, The United Kingdom, Japan, and Canada.
“Velo Bella is a hub where women who ride can meet other women who ride; it’s like a support network,” Kim says. “It’s because there are so much fewer of us. Women riders tend to be closer knit with each other for that reason.”
Kim is only one of many women taking on a life of dirt and glory. Though women are making their imprint in the sport, it is still male dominated. In 2004’s 24 Hour of Adrenalin, women made up only 13 percent of all the participating riders.
Kim believes “a lot of women may be intimidated to ask male riders questions about how to get involved competitively. It’s also possible for a woman rider to have a question that a guy rider wouldn’t know the answer to.”
Meredith Obendorfer, a Velo Bella rider from San Jose, raced in last year’s 24 Hours of Adrenalin. In an excerpt from her racing log she gives a description of one of the more extreme areas on the course: “I soon learned how Hurl Hill got its namesake. Except in my case, it should have been called ‘Oh my god, I think I’m gonna…oh, maybe not, but I still feel like crap’ Hill.”
For Kim, the “24 Hours” part of the event creates the biggest challenge.
“Night-riding will be the hardest thing to do,” she predicts.
Obendorfer agrees: “It’s hard to get practice because it’s illegal to do it in most areas. It’s kind of scary; it’s cold, it’s dark, and people come out of nowhere riding up behind you.”
The goal of the race is to finish as many laps as possible in a 24-hour period. Each lap is 10.45 miles long, with an elevation gain of 2,130 feet per lap. Teams can be made up of as many as 10 riders; the more people there are on a team, the more resting time available.
There is more than one way to win at the 24 Hours of Adrenalin Race. Awards are given for the “best theme” (“The Flintstones,” and “Animal House” themes won in past years) and the “best helmet.” It is also a 24 Hour tradition for the last lap of the race to be completed in a surprise costume. G-strings, Afro wigs, leopard-print jumpsuits, and drag are fairly common.
“I have my costume ready for that last lap,” Kim says, declining to reveal what that is.