“It was euphoric. For someone who once upon a time didn’t think that road cycling was something I’d be good at or interested in, it was a special kind of euphoric feeling.”
Founded nearly a decade ago to boost women’s participation at L’Etape, the Rapha Women’s 100 challenge has quickly become a staple in riders’ calendars around the world, with an incredible 70,000 participants last year.
The concept is simple: ride 100 kilometres in a single day, wherever and however you like; pedalling in solidarity as a global celebration of women’s cycling. And as Jools Walker’s quote demonstrates, it’s a special thing to be a part of.
Ahead of this year’s edition, we caught up with multi-discipline racer Dalila Lecky along with utility and leisure cyclist Jools at the Lee Valley Velopark to hear their Women’s 100 experiences.
“To me, 100 kilometres is a long ride,” says Jools, “My first Women’s 100 was actually loops around Richmond Park.” This approach gave her a kind of ‘comfortable-uncomfortable zone’, concentrating on the element of physical challenge while remaining on familiar roads.
“There were points on that ride when I thought I was done, my legs were not happy with me. I was stopping, I was eating, I was hydrating, but I felt like I was cooked. I’d never done anything like it.”
Before being invited to take on her first Women’s 100, the furthest Jools had ever ridden was 60 kilometres.
“I needed someone to say ‘come do this thing’, which gave me the element of knowing someone believes in you. Then it’s finding that faith and believing in yourself. That was the spark for me”.
Despite feeling exhausted, Jools kept telling herself that 100 kilometres was just a little bit more than 60. As she neared the end of the challenge - riding the home straight into Canning Town - she was overcome by a ‘wild feeling of satisfaction’.
“It was such a thrill because this is not my everyday kind of riding. You’re much more likely to see me on my Brompton about town. I kid you not, I got to the point where I couldn’t walk up the stairs. I’d have dragged myself up if I needed to, but my mum has a stairlift…”
And the euphoric feeling lasted. “It was the nicest shower I’ve ever had in my life, the nicest chinese takeaway. Everything just tasted like gold because I’d earned it.”
Counter inner demons: Official led rides are back on the menu this year and Jools is planning on joining her first. She’s never been much of a group rider, fearing she’ll be at the back holding everyone up, even though she knows it isn’t like that. No woman left behind. “I need to not listen to the voices in my head, and remind myself that it’s for fun,” nods Jools,
Snacks, snacks, and more snacks: The longer the ride, the more crucial regular eating and drinking on the bike becomes. “I’d much rather have too many snacks than not enough,” says Dahlila. “When I’m plotting the route I’ll pick out cafes or shops along the way in case I fancy more”. You can also set regular reminders on your cycle computer to snack or drink, which Dahlila finds handy as it’s easy to forget.
Stay comfortable: Dahlila and Jools unanimously agree that a good quality pair of bib shorts with a women’s-specific chamois is the most crucial item of kit to keep you (and your backside) happy for longer rides. “You don’t know what the weather might do,'' says Jools, ''It can change on a dime, so having something like a packable jacket is a good idea and other layers too”.
Take care of your bike: Dahlila always packs tools and spares to be able to fix a flat and it’s well worth getting your bike serviced before a big ride, especially if it’s been a while since your last.
For experienced rider and racer Dahlila, to make the Women’s 100 challenge more personal last year she completed a solo, off-road 100km ride, heading out into the sandy, forested bridleways to the south-west of London.
“It was a really long day, as when you ride off-road it’s so much slower,” says Dahlila. “Take whatever time it would take on the road and add 50 per cent at least.”
As well as the amount of time in the saddle, the challenge of riding alone pushed Dahlila out of her comfort zone. When things started to get tough, she broke the ride down into manageable, smaller chunks, another 10 kilometres or another hour to help her cope mentally.
To help you prepare, Rapha are hosting training rides and workshops from their London and Manchester Clubhouses, as well as a series of virtual rides on Zwift. If you’re looking for groups to join on the day, they’re also hosting guided rides.
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