Riding a bike is much more than just turning the pedals.
It’s mediation in movement, a hefty time commitment, a logistical battle, a mechanical complexity, a childcare conundrum, a steep learning curve, and a way to lose weight.
And did we say, a powerful tool for connection?
That’s why we love stories like this one. Let’s set the scene: we’re in Kelheim, Southern Germany, a cute little town with cobbles, short climbs, rocky cliffs and a river running through it. There’s a team of five women, including two sisters, lining up for the iconic 24 Stunden Rennen Kelheim. Some of them have been on and off road bikes for years, punctuating their time on the pedals with marriages, house moves, babies and the rest. This time, they’re joined by others that are newer to the sport.
The women go by the names Caro, Lisa, Julia, Sabrina and Karoline. If they have one thing in common (other than an affinity for cycling), it’s that the pandemic brought them to the weekly No Gods No Masters Women’s Crush Wednesday ride on Zwift, where this idea for a women’s team was born. Within weeks, the virtual NGNM community ride had turned into a mandatory appointment, forging a huge number of real-life relationships and friendships – not just this one in Germany. Sisters Julia and Karoline spent the pandemic in a whirlwind of new friendships, power numbers and virtual racing.
Karoline, the one who pioneered the Race24 idea, takes up the story: “We were all getting fitter and stronger – especially my sister Julia, who lost 28 kg in the past two years. It has been life-changing. Now hooked on cycling and regularly doing virtual races for CrushPod, we felt we needed to transfer it into the real world somehow. Around the same time, my husband ‘s Zwifting team entered this crazy 24 hour race, which seemed like a good idea for us too.”
The sisters, who have got four kids between them, didn’t have any trouble recruiting the rest of the team, although real-life meet-ups didn’t happen until their recon ride a few weeks before the event. As expected, the women cruised around Kelheim together, encouraging each other and chatting like childhood friends. Everything was looking pretty good before the big day.
Race day: the execution
“We built our camp on Thursday, together with SWM, my husband’s Zwift team,” explains Karoline from her home in Ihrlerstein. The two teams shared one large tent, with her parent’s campervan parked next to it. “Our parents helped us so much. We couldn’t have predicted that they’d be so fantastic but they were constantly on hand, serving food and making sure everyone was doing well. The sponsor of the men’s team provided two masseuses to take care of all of us – 10 riders on two teams – for the full 24 hours. This made such a difference; they had magic hands! Julia’s husband was our mechanic – he stepped in to save the day when my gear cable was on the verge of death after three laps. He and Sabrina’s husband Dima tracked the times, sent riders to the transition zone when it was time for the change and accompanied us there and back. We feared that our kids would have no voice left on the second day because they were standing on the climb screaming, hooting and playing the drums for us.”
If it sounds like an uplifting experience, it was. But it definitely had its hard moments. As a team of five, they planned to switch out the rider every thirty minutes, meaning you’d get two hours rest followed by half an hour of intense racing.
“Sabrina was the first rider out on the course and we kept the same order throughout the whole race: Sabrina, me, Julia, Lisa, Caro,” continues Karoline. “Each lap started in the city, riding over cobbles then through a tent with spectators. It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement in the early laps, so we realised we should go with our own pace on the climbs to save energy then aim to hop onto a group as we went over the second climb. Each lap had about 15 minutes of climbing, before it was downhill and flat back into the town, so it really helps – especially as a lighter woman – to be able to catch a wheel or find a group. Each lap basically involved getting into TTT mode and putting your head down. Half the time, people didn’t notice if they had a man or a woman on their wheel.”
Karoline is still excited when we catch up with her a couple of weeks after the event. She’s got a contagious energy that explains why the rest of the team were so quick to sign up to her ambitious 24-hour race idea.
“You had to take a pull on almost every lap. You’d be riding way beyond their FTP for a few seconds then it hurt so much to jump on the back after dropping back. Even more so than on Zwift!” Karoline breaks into a huge grin, reliving the endorphins of the event. “The speed was between 40-50km/h, wheel on wheel, which meant you had no break for your legs nor your mind. There were also individual 24-hour riders, who were slowing down progressively with each lap, which meant that they were no big help in terms of slipstreaming so we prayed for strong team riders to work.”
“The top women’s teams were really strong and were gone after two or three laps but we had a good battle with OTC (a top triathlon team) for fourth and fifth place. In the end, we lost out to them by around 20 seconds.”
Does the position even matter at the end of the day? Karoline shrugs, not obviously bothered. Her, her sister and the other three riders had cycled lap after lap on the narrow red line of exhaustion while holding the wheel of strangers – and they’d thrived.
“Those two hour breaks passed so quickly,” she continues, full of enthusiasm, “We ate, slept, got a massage and drank as much coffee as we could. The night riding was tough, especially if you’d just woken up. Caro and Sabrina got a little bit wet in the rain, but no one complained. We knew as soon as daylight hit, our energy levels would soar again. And so they did.”
Up until two years ago, these women weren’t riding or competing regularly. Do they plan to continue? Who knows. We hope so. They’re a new breed of female bike racer that knows how to create a great spirit – both online and offline.
Find out more about riding with CrushPod here
Find out how our 12-strong Italian team got the top podium at their first 24-hour team race here.
Interested in creating your own women-led team? Get in touch