Rêve Tour :: Ride Kate! Ride!

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If you don’t know about the Rêve Tour, you should. And if you don’t know Kate Powlison, you should. Kate is one of those women who, upon entering your life, quickly but quietly becomes an inspiration without effort or intention.

When I learned that Kate was joining the Rêve Tour, I was just as excited for her as I was for the team. The Rêve Women’s Tour is a team of six women who will take on the entire Tour de France route, just one day ahead of the creme de le creme of spandex clad pro mens pelotons, Kate is sure to be an asset.

With the ride just around the corner, I caught up with her for an attempt at a real interview.

We met at the “outdoor office”, also known as a picnic table that sits squarely between the doors of Bikes Belong and IMBA. It was Friday evening and the two forces had gathered for happy hour and a toast to Kate’s big adventure.

The beauty of Bikes Belong and IMBA is that, unlike most of the cycling world, there are more women than men in the organizations. I consider myself lucky to live in the same town and have the opportunity to call these ladies my friends. Kate is one such gal, holding a position at Bikes Belong as the Research Analyst and Communications Coordinator. We enjoyed a beer (or two) and as always, the conversation came around to cycling and when we could all get together for a ride.

Erik Esborg presented Kate with a Bike’s Belong waterbottle that he had labeled with all the French phrases she would need for her travels, including “J’ai besoin d’une beirre” and “Est que Lance?” or “I need a beer” and “Is that Lance?”

On a mission to pick up her freshly tuned Women’s Supersix Evo–Cannondale’s just released elite women’s road bike–from The Service Course, Kate asked if I minded coming along so she could grab her bike before the shop closed. Kate got a round of hugs and we saddled up.

While everything about this seemed so ordinary–meeting the girls for happy hour on Friday evening, chatting about women’s cycling and the weekend ride plans, rolling off on our bikes to the next destination–as we started to pedal, the gravity of what’s about to happen began to hit home.

When I next see my friend, she will have conquered the Col du Tourmalet and ridden in Paris on the Champs-Élysées.

Kate’s soft pedal had become ferocious. As we passed through town she dove in to corners and sprinted with intention, however unintentionally.

I remembered all of the invites to join her for a “training ride” consisting of six or more hours in the saddle and enough climbing to touch the moon.  “Training rides” that I never had the time or training to jump in on.

May 13th, the day of CycloFemme, had been one of those days. Although her heart was with us, she had to stick to her plan. With the CycloFemme mark adorning her left arm, she pedaled far up in to the mountains. She tweeted a photo to let us know she was with us in spirit, despite the hail and miserable conditions she encountered at altitude, she was grinning from ear to ear.

As we blazed through town, we compared notes on the Cannondale Women’s Supersix Evo. I had just returned from the launch of Cannodale Women’s new pride and joy (more details coming soon) at Press Camp in Park City, UT. With her weapon in the shop, I was thinking that if only the Evo was under me, I might have a fighting chance at keeping her wheel.

Concerned that we were running late, she stopped to check a text.

“Oh, Allen must have seen us ride by, funny.  He just commented on my shorts.” she said.

Before we could make the next block another greeting was fired from across the road “RIDE KATE! RIDE!”

We both giggled and remarked how great it is to live in the small cycle-centric town of Boulder. While the rest of the world may not be as tuned in with the Rêve Tour, it was apparent that everyone around here is.

We arrived at The Service Course where Daimeon Shanks, author of the new book Essential Bicycle Maintenance Repair had been readying Kate’s steed. As a ProTour mechanic, Daimo knew exactly what final touches her Rêve Tour bike deserved. He showed her a few new changes including some Nokon brake housing he added to reduce steering friction. It was clear that he had attended to every last detail.

Before we left she was placed on the scale. “You can’t race this. It’s not legal!” said Daimo as we gathered around to see the result. 14.7 lbs. With training wheels. In France the Rêve gals will be treated to ZIPP 202’s, losing an additional pound.

“I had a dream last night that I came to pick up my bike and it had grass and mud all stuck in the wheels…” she started. Daimo gave her a quick look, as he had clearly shined her to perfection.

“We call those Bikemares” our ProTour education continued.

With that, we were on our way. Kate efficiently hopped on her commuter and grabbed the Evo by the stem guiding it as we headed down the bike path to her home. In the drive we were temporarily halted by another superfan, full of excitement for the Rêve Tour.

Once inside, Kate made juleps with fresh mint from her patio planter. I pulled out my note pad and tried to wrap my mind around the task of interviewing my friend who was essentially about to ride the Tour de France.

“That’s the thing, we are ordinary women” she started. “When they first said ‘ok’ to me joining the team, I wanted to say no… because of the stress of training, being off of work and away from home.”

“But my grandma and my mom… they don’t ride bikes and they are so excited.  From their reaction I realized I could inspire the mainstream. To see their faces light up…” she turned her eyes up and shook her head, I expected a tear but she held it.

“Lots of people ask, ‘why aren’t they sending pros?’ We are not the best candidates to finish. But we are able to tell the story of women who do get money to race while resonating more with the women who are reading the non-pro mags. We were approached by several pros when one of the original girls left the team but we wanted to tell the story of an amateur.”

“I also have the support of my husband Spencer and Bikes Belong. My bosses, both Bruno and Tim, told me to go for it. They said to ‘DO IT, not just for us but also for you.'”

There had never been a question of husband Spencer’s support. While Kate was away at camp, I encountered him on a ride to Gold Hill.  I asked how she was doing.  Spencers face lit up with pride, “she’s great, its amazing, I’ve never seen her so motivated to train.”

We had moved on to a spread of cheese and jam that Kate had laid out. A vegan for 6 years, she had all but rendered herself lactose intolerant. She recently decided to add cheese back in to her diet. “I figured I would either deal with it here or over there, best to do it now.”

“It’s kind of like a science experiment really, we are all capped by a 40 hour a week job. I’ve seen my mind and body change. Even though I have been a local elite racer, I finally feel fit enough to compete. I’ve been cranky and irritable. I get tweaked about the smallest things because of the training and stress and the need to eat.”

Kate told a few stories about the amazing women she will be riding with. “At least I don’t have kids. I can’t imagine how hard that must be for Kym“, Rêve Women’s Tour rider Kym Fant is from Santa Rosa, CA, a marketing manager for Bayer Pharmaceutical, co-owner of two bike shops and the mother of a two year old son. “One of the girls had a breakdown at camp and Kym said ‘no, we call those breakthroughs’. She is amazing.”

Kate’s training has doubled to 15 to 20 hours a week. She has also allowed herself more “professional care expenses”, indulging in a monthly sports massage and chiropractor visits.

Although these women are riding the entire 3479 km of the Tour de France, Kate compares it to any other pro level women’s team when it comes to getting support. Aside from having some amazing sponsors, we are still taking care of a lot on our own–washing bikes, making bottles, and buying and prepping ride food.”

“I hope that what we are doing gets more women riding and I hope it also brings more equality to pro racing.”

Amen sister.

Our conversation returned to the Women’s Supersix Evo. “Its’ been so hard not to talk about it for the last month.” Cannondale had surprised the girls with the new bikes at their last training camp, before its official launch at Press Camp last week.

“It brings up an interesting side to the inequality in racing and thinking about a paycheck.  This could be the bike that gets millions more women racing, not more women making millions racing.”

With our shift in focus, Kate started dinner, she was replicating a gnocchi recipe that Allen Lim had shared with them at the Ride on Washington.

We continued to glow about descending the Evo. While in Utah, I had one chance to test it. We had climbed the road to the top of the Olympic Ski Jump facility in Park City. Braking in to the first turn on the descent, I was so impressed with the stability and sticking power, I left the brakes behind and began to pedal in to the turns.  Clocking 42 mph on the descent, which felt like 20, I imagined the possibilities of this baby on familiar roads with steeper grades. I have never jumped on a stock road bike and felt this confident with only minor fit adjustments and under 20 miles of pedaling.

Kate gets to descend the Alps and the Pyrenees. Jealous.

I asked Kate how else her life had been impacted so far.

“I haven’t been able to go out with friends much. We had a rest week and one night I stayed out late. I felt so bad the next day and realized what a waste it was. Prepping for this big scary thing, I’ve made an effort to keep my life as normal as possible. I still have a beer with dinner every night. But I’ve had to say no to friends many times just to rest up. I don’t spend my Saturdays going to Target anymore. I go on an eight hour ride instead. I thought I would miss it a lot more than I do.”

“I’ve gained a lot of respect for my body and what it can do. I thank it for performing for me. In high school I was in to endurance running. I saw my body go from 145 lbs at 15 years old, to 95 lbs at 16. I’m trying to be much more moderate with my weight.”

“It’s interesting too, when you need inspiration, you find it everywhere. I saw this necklace that had some deeper meaning attached to it and I was going to buy it. But I told myself ‘you don’t need the necklace to get you through’. It makes you vulnerable and open to advice from anything. I’ll be reading a quote and it will send me off crying. I think about the tour every waking moment of every day.”

Through the entire evening, Kate kept her mild temper and carried a slightly distant look in her eye. Our conversation, however, was fluid and per usual found its way back to women in cycling. Since we met a couple of years ago Kate has been my resource for any statistics I need about women on bikes and a great sounding board for new ideas. Usually within hours of my request for statistics I have a reply in my inbox with all the information she has access to. It’s going to be a long month without her.

“Every woman advocate has to give back to women’s cycling. I think about Megan Hottman and feel guilty, she is doing so much. I felt I should be finding my niche, making the case for getting more women riders. We have people like Michael Engleman too, I have so much respect for him.” Reflecting on the opportunity that this project offers, she continued, “although this audience is limited, it gives us a preferred platform.”

We couldn’t agree more, Megan Hottman, also known as the ‘Cyclist Lawyer‘ started a women’s road race team in 2006.  Taking the team to the elite level in 2009, Megan herself began racing. In the next few years she also became a professional bike racer, all while fighting for cyclist’s rights inside courtroom.  Now Megan dedicates her time to developing a women’s beginner race team and continues to represent cyclists rights.

Michael Engleman, another great ambassador to the sport of women’s cycling, has developed the US Women’s Cycling Development Program to build a network of people who could help close some of the gaps that stands in the way of a woman cyclist reaching their potential.

The Rêve Tour is doing more than raising awareness of these programs and advocates. Bikes Belong is the beneficiary of the Rêve Women’s Tour Project. The goal is to raise $60,000. Funds will be allotted to the Green Lane Project for specialized bike facilities. Research shows that such facilities attract more female riders.  Funds will also go toward Safe Routes to School. With women bearing more of a disproportionate share of the household errands, women have more places to go with kids, and they don’t have as much time to exercise, etc.  These projects can have a dramatic impact on their quality of life. Visit their fundraising page and make a difference.

“The goal is not to alienate, not to genderize, to not be exclusive but inclusive. If can we design away the need for specialized knowledge, more people will ride bikes. It should be as easy as driving, with clearly marked lanes just like the ones for cars. We need the engineering but we also need the infrastructure to back it up.”

And with that, Kate’s phone buzzed with a fresh work email. Dedicated to the cause and feeling the guilt of being gone for a month she needed to attend to the matter, even at this late hour on a Friday.

Kate and I had spent the entire evening talking about her adventure, the inspiration, the gear, and the amazing people who are making it happen. Michael Robertson of Velodramatic, Peloton Magazine and the ever talented Heidi Swift, the awesome ladies of Cannondale, SRAM, Strava, Osmo, Capo, Giro, and the list goes on.

But it is truly Kate that is an inspiration, without the Rêve Tour she would still be one amazing woman doing amazing things.

There is so much more of this story to come and we hope to continue to bring you tidbits as their adventure begins in just under a week. Be sure to stay tuned to Peloton Magazine and VeloDramatic for updates. Follow Kate on twitter @muddylegs and the #ReveTour hashtag.

The Women of the Rêve Tour will be “proving to themselves, other female cyclists, and women thinking about taking up the sport, that any bicycle dream is possible”. With this notion under their wings, they are sure to fly.

By Sarai Snyder - Boulder, CO