Rapha Women’s Prestige 2012

Words: Abby Watson | Photography: Jake Stangel | Date:
FILM: What We Do

I don’t have any harrowing tales from the recent inaugural Rapha Women’s Prestige. Run along the same lines as the Rapha Gentlemen’s Race, the Prestige is an unsanctioned and unmarshalled ride, with more emphasis on teamwork and camaraderie than on winning. Covering 116 miles of spectacular Californian terrain in and around San Francisco, my overriding feelings of the experience are ones of satisfaction and gratitude. Last November, I moved from Portland, OR to Madison, WI. The move was difficult and left me missing friends, food, coffee, climate and terrain that I’d grown to love. The Midwest has been good to me so far though, offering a mild winter in which I could ride with a pretty amazing group of people.

So with more fitness than expected, not to mention a whole lot of excitement, I found myself flying into San Francisco for the Rapha Prestige. I would be meeting up with some old Portland friends and teammates: Cindy; Rachel; Ward; India; as well as our newest teammate, Cynthia, who hails from BC.

The flight was uneventful and I spent my time reading and reminding myself to keep drinking water, so as to avoid getting too worked up about Saturday’s ride; the mix of anticipation and nervousness before a race or big ride can be exhausting. Armed with these pieces of travel defense, I landed in San Francisco and hurried through the terminals with my carry-on luggage to meet Cynthia and Rapha Continental rider Ira Ryan.

With Cynthia holding the tie-down straps on her bike box through the sunroof on Ira’s car, we eventually arrived at our destination, the Rapha Cycle Club and after some much needed lunch and coffee, set off on our first ride of the weekend. Led by Ben Lieberson, another Continental rider and half of the two-man team running the Rapha Mobile Cycle Club here in the US, we ventured across the Golden Gate Bridge. This was the first of the weekend’s six crossings and for many of us the first crossing, period. We were a little taken aback by the mayhem: tourists on rental bikes; countless commuters and runners; sightseers; and roadies like us, all jammed onto a single sidewalk suspended high above the ocean. We’d been warned to expect chaos but it was still a lot to take in.

We cruised through Mill Valley and up to the beginning of the climb that would lead us up Mt. Tam the following morning. The start of the climb, the only section we would be riding today, was fairly steep and we all felt our legs waking up after a long day of traveling. With a small taste of what was in store the next day, and a fair amount of tension about what the remainder of the climb would be like, we rolled back down to Mill Valley. After a meeting with the other teams at back at the Cycle Club, we went out for a healthy dinner and got to bed early.

A breakfast of eggs and coffee the following morning came by way of a 24-hour diner that had looked a bit dubious the night before. Of greater concern, however, was my right shoulder. I’d injured it in a few weeks earlier and was apprehensive about how it would feel after 8 to 10 hours on the bike.

With 14, six-women teams participating in the Prestige, we were scheduled at start at 8:45, toward the tail-end of the start times. Rolling out more or less on time, obstacle number one was the bridge crossing. This time it went off without a hitch, thanks to Rachel’s leadership. Using her bell (provided for each team by Rapha specifically for this purpose), she announced our presence and directed pedestrian and bike traffic in such a way that all six of us managed to stay together without incident. With that challenge behind us, we headed for the Mt Tam climb. Traveling up through the surrounding neighborhoods, we were blown away by the views and happily climbed up towards the park and upcoming gravel section.

It’s worth noting that our team included regular Rapha rider Cindy Lewellen, a fantastic climber. By the time we reached the gravel, she was long gone, leaving the rest of us to work our way up at a more human speed. It was then I experienced one of those moments when you just know it’s going to be an awesome ride. Coming from the Midwest, I hadn’t been climbing much in recent months but my legs felt great and, more importantly, my shoulder felt better, too.

Our biggest challenge as a team came in the final 40 or so miles. Finding a pace that worked for everyone, and over terrain that was fairly rolling, proved tricky. We soon wound up losing people off the back as we struggled to work together efficiently. Without much discussion, we eventually managed to settle into a tempo that worked for everyone on the flats, then got in the habit of regrouping at the top of the steeper climbs.

But it got me to thinking. Most of us had participated in the two previous editions of the Rapha Gentleman’s Race; on both occasions we had never managed to finish with a complete team. In 2010, the temperature was more than 100 degrees. After a grueling 80 miles one girl, bordering on heatstroke, had to drop out. Last year, we all made it to mile 100 but again, due to heat and fatigue, one rider called it early. So, this time around, that was the only real goal and it was with a tremendous amount of satisfaction that all six of us crossed the Golden Gate Bridge lead, once again, by Rachel and her bell.

We squeezed in one final ride on Sunday, after watching Paris-Roubaix. Then it was time to pack up and head back to real life, to work and families. It was a truly inspiring day and I’m already looking forward to next year.


1. Upper Echelon 7:28 (and first to finish)
2. Strava 7:52
2. Fusion & Friends 7:52
4. Ritte Racing 7:58
5. InGamba 8:21
6. DFL 8:27
7. Tibco II 8:37
8. Rapha 8:38
9. Specialized 9:23
10. Sorella Forte 9:27
11. Early Bird 9:52
12. Mission Cycling 10:20

StudioVelo finishes with 4 in a time of 8:37

Queen of the Mountain

1. Lea Davison
2. Erin Werner
3. Tanja Meyer
4. Cindy Lewellen
5. Becky Siegel

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