Ultra-endurance rider Lael Wilcox finished the Turin-Nice self-propelled rally last Friday with 25 other women. The group covered 700 km with a 15,000 m drop across the Italian and French Alps in seven days.
Wilcox, a native of Alaska who was the first American to win the Trans Am Bike Race in 2016, had wanted to ride the route for years and after talking to a friend about the Komoot route planning department, organized the one week challenge in just one month.
“It was a total success for the first year and the course was stellar,” explains Wilcox. “Everyone was up for it and we had assembled a group of brilliant women, some of whom had never done anything like this before.”
Designed by James Olsen, the route included a total of 10 climbs, with the first climb Colle del Colombardo being the most difficult, followed by the more famous Colle delle Finestre.
“The Colle del Colombardo was really stiff and loose,” explains Wilcox. “I was the first one up and everyone wondered if we were going to be able to do it because it sounds crazy. It was the first and most difficult mountain pass, but everyone did it and it was good to finish it. ‘
The group started with 21 runners and ended with 26 as five other women joined the event.
They split into smaller groups along the way, jostling each other along the way.
Half of the riders rode gravel bikes while the rest rode mountain bikes which Wilcox said worked well as some of the descents required something between a gravel mountain bike and a full suspension mountain bike.
Wilcox opted for a specialized Diverge with the Revelate Designs bike bags.
The group suffered only minor mechanical issues like punctures and worn brake pads. As a stand-alone event, however, bikepacking bags weren’t just needed for spare parts, with runners choosing to bring a tent or bivouac, sleep outside, or opt for a refuge.
Why only women?
The gist of the challenge was that it was aimed specifically at women as Wilcox wanted to show that there is a place for women in endurance cycling.
“Like a lot of bikepacking races or in the community at large, there aren’t a lot of women,” says Wilcox. “If I show up at a race I’m usually the only woman where we make up 10% of the field, which is encouraging to see, but there is no reason why more women should not be in the line. departure because they are quite capable.
“Especially in endurance, we are seeing more and more positive results where women are winning the whole field, but there just aren’t many on the starting line.
“It was an invitation to come forward and do something hard.”
In Wilcox’s opinion, many women-specific events are geared towards an introductory or beginner level.
She wanted to organize a more serious challenge to show other women that they too can get involved in more difficult hikes and have fun.
“You should take it if you’re a little scared but also to show yourself what you’re capable of,” she said. “This is when you learn new things about yourself and also feel a lot more able to do more next time around.
“It doesn’t have to be harder, but you just have that bank of experience for whatever comes next.”
So what comes next?
Since finishing the Turin-Nice rally, Wilcox has received many messages from other people wanting to get involved.
She plans to host the event again next year and hopes to add another itinerary elsewhere as well.
It’s been a few high-profile days for women’s cycling, with Joss Lowden breaking the hour record and Lizzie Deignan winning the first Paris-Roubaix Women, which Wilcox really appreciates.
“I’m super excited about all of this and I feel that the more women get together and share ideas with each other, the more positive energy is going to come out,” Wilcox explains. “It just proves that women can do anything. “
Wilcox will be speaking at an event hosted by Rapha with fellow Turin-Nice rally cycling colleague Emily Chappell on Thursday and it will also be streamed live on Instagram.
Wilcox hopes to compete in the Across Andes event at the end of November and the Race Around Rwanda in January.
Discover the complete route of the Turin-Nice Rally on Komoot.
Image credits: Tom Gibbs and Rugile Kaladyte