Lael Wilcox may not yet be a household name in the cycling world, but with wins and records in super long distance, self-supported bikepacking races such as TransAmerica and the Tour Divide, she will be soon. In this special episode of The Bicycle Story podcast, I interviewed Lael about her victory at TransAm, what it’s like to race across the country in 18 days, her roots as a dirtbag world adventurer, breaking into the mainstream, and more.
With seemingly more coverage of the issue recently than ever, womenâ€™s fight for an equal place in bike racing kind of feels like a modern phenomenon. But women have been fighting for the right to race bikes for nearly the entirety of bike racing history. In the late 1800s, a young Swedish immigrant named Tillie Anderson joined that fight and quickly became the star of American cycling with a nearly flawless record and the world champion title to her name.
â€œIntractable,â€ “Floating Citiesâ€
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Eszter Horanyi and Scott Morris at the start of their 4,000 mile Continental Divide Trail ride. Photo via topofusion.com.
The Tour Divide is a 2,745 bikepacking race from Banff, Canada to the Mexican border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. When Eszter Horanyi set the women’s course record of 19 days, 3 hours in 2012, she did so by averaging over 140 miles each day and sleeping just a few hours each night. Doing so on repeat for the better part of a month is a brutal challenge that pushes athletes to their mental and physical limits. It turns out Horanyi is really good at it. Over her years of bikepacking racing, she’s held or still holds records on the Tour Divide, Arizona Trail Race 300, Colorado Trail Race, Arrowhead 135, and plenty more. She stopped racing in 2013, but continues to explore mountains and valleys and remote roads by bike. I spoke to Horanyi about her entry into mountain bike racing, her bikepacking racing “career,” the self-empowerment the comes from adventuring alone, the growth of bikepacking, and more.
Cyclists love to grimace. It is, in part, because pain and suffering have been venerated in cycling culture to the point of fetishization. Entire clothing empires have been built on marketing the nobility of suffering on a bicycle. But it’s also because racing and riding hard just really, really hurt sometimes. From the pro peloton to local cat 4s, people tend to scowl and frown in race photos. Then there’s Sonya Looney. The professional endurance mountain biker is smiling so often in race photos it’s slightly disconcerting. She says it’s because she just has fun on the bike. I suspect endurance athletes have some sort of subconscious love of hardship. Either way, Looney has parlayed her endurance talents and smiles into a successful race career. Her specialty is 100 milers and multi-day mountain bike stage races. She’s notched podiums at the US National Championships, Breck Epic, Mongolia Bike Challenge, Trans Andes, BC Bike Race, and many other races around the world. I spoke to her about her foray into endurance racing, that smiling-while-racing thing, the business side of being a professional racer (and the need for a side business), adventuring around the world, and much more.