Women’s team of the year encourages female riders
by Amanda H. Miller
CAWES team members worked with the junior ladies of Rock Creek Velo last summer.
CAWES team members worked with the junior ladies of Rock Creek Velo last summer.
All of the ladies in USA Cycling’s 2011 Women’s Club of the Year can remember how they got into cycling, racing, and ultimately into the Capital Area Women’s Elite Squad (CAWES).
That evolution is not easily forgettable, which is why the women in Bethesda, Md.-based CAWES/iFractal give special attention to women interested in the sport and individually try to encourage strong female riders to pursue racing and as a group sponsor riding and bike mechanics clinics for ladies.
“There’s an intimidation factor there for women,” said Sarah Iepson.
Iepson is a Category 2 rider who has been with CAWES more than three years. But getting into the sport was filled with challenges for her.
Like most of the women in the club, Iepson started off riding with men simply because most of the serious riders out there are men, she said.
“And I used to ride with the guys because when you ride with someone who is stronger than you, it makes you work harder,” she said
She got a flat tire on her first major group ride and was dropped from the pack and left on the side of the road by herself to change it.
“I got lucky,” she said. “A couple guys did come back for me. But that’s the sort of thing a lot of women experience and it’s intimidating.”
Her first race wasn’t much better. It was the Mount Pleasant Road Bike Race in Charleston, South Carolina.
“I’ve since learned that any race with words like mount or hill and words like pleasant or joyful is going to be pretty awful,” Iepson said.
She fell behind about half way through the race and lost the pack. She struggled through and thought about quitting, but revised her goal.
Becky Chan represents CAWES at the Philadelphia Naval Yard Crit
Becky Chan represents CAWES at the Philadelphia Naval Yard Crit
“All I wanted to do was finish,” she said. “I just wanted to finish and not hurt myself. It was so simple.”
After she crossed the line, it didn’t matter that she finished minutes behind the best riders. She was hooked.
A few years later, she went back to win the Mount Pleasant race. It was a cloudy, miserable day and it was the day she got the win she needed to push from Category 3 to 2.
All 12 members of the team can remember when they first started to consider racing their bikes.
“No one is born bike racing,” Iepson said. “Most of us have to work toward it.”
She found a women’s team – Sturdy Girl – that helped her develop and grow in a supportive atmosphere. And then she graduated to CAWES.
While the team does some amazing public service projects – printing legal advice cards for riders, raising money for the IM ABLE foundation and doing charity rides – its clinics for women and the example it creates for female bike racers inspires ladies to push harder.
Jacqueline McClure will race with the team for the first time this year. She watched CAWES from afar over the last year and a half as she entered the bike racing world and knew she wanted to join.
She could tell the team really worked together and built each other up.
That’s how the group was built, said Michelle Hart, one of the team founders.
She got into bike racing after taking it up at the collegiate level.
“If you’re in graduate school or law school, that’s a great way to get started,” Hart said.
After college, she was looking for a really competitive cycling team to join.
She was one of about four women who were riding in local competitions in the Washington, D.C. area. They got together and decided to form a group that would focus on using team tactics in racing.
“We became one of the first really strong women’s teams in our area that really focused on racing at that next level,” Hart said.
They traveled out of state and entered men’s races. They pushed hard and got better and grew.
“It was healthy competition here,” Hart said. “But it’s turned into real racing the last few years. It’s a lot more fun to race that way.”
They keep the team to about 12 riders, Iepson said. That allows the group to support all of the riders both financially and emotionally.
McClure said that’s what she loves most about the group.
“It’s not always about the bike,” she said. “We’re friends.”
When McClure races with the team this year, it will be the first time in Category 3. She was the Category 4 women’s champion last year.
“I decided to stay in Cat. 4 the whole year because I thought it was important to learn how it feels to win,” she said.
She entered the racing world cautiously.
Her boyfriend tricked her into riding her first race. She started out cruising around San Francisco with her boyfriend on her mom’s old steel bike. Then she decided to do her first century at the Best Buddies Challenge, a charity ride.
When they moved back to Pennsylvania, McClure’s boyfriend started racing.
“I thought he was crazy,” she said. “I never saw myself doing that. I thought I’d always be a charity rider.”
And then her boyfriend signed her up for a criterium without telling her.
“I lasted 10 laps,” she said. “I had to get out of there before I crashed.”
That taste of the race was enough to get her interested.
“It took a few times before I hung in there the whole time,” McClure said.
She found a development team and learned to race. Now the trick is to stick with it and take it to the next level, which is where CAWES comes in.
Racing is intimidating, McClure said. She’s seen people seriously injured in crashes, the kinds of crashes you get into when you’re pushing really hard and trying to pass people. She hopes being with a strong team like CAWES will allow her to develop the strength and confidence to take her riding to the next level.
“I won’t know until I race with them how much I’ve grown,” she said. “But I know they keep me motivated and I’d rather be outside riding with them than with the guys. These women are amazing and I have a lot to live up to.”

Tips from CAWES riders for women interested in bike racing:

  1. Go on organized group rides
  2. Learn bike maintenance tricks
  3. Race at the collegiate level if you’re in graduate or law school
  4. Find female riding companions
  5. Talk to other female racers about how they got into the sport
  6. Ride with the boys
  7. Join a women’s developmental race team
  8. Ask trusted sources about the difficulty level of specific races
  9. Start with an easy race that doesn’t have too many sharp curves or hills
  10. Give it at least a couple tries

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This Article Updated April 20, 2012 @ 09:12 AM For more information contact: