Over the mountains

Western North Carolina’s roads and trails draw thousands of adventure-seeking cyclists every year. Tackling this daunting terrain isn’t easy, but for the members of Asheville Women’s Cycling, the area amounts to a year-round playground, with each season bringing a new set of challenges.

Patricia Pinner, the group’s founder and current president, raced with the Champion Hearts cycling team in Winston-Salem before moving back to her hometown to start one here. “I wasn’t sure there would be any interest here, but I sent out some e-mails and got a tremendous response,” says Pinner. Team Prestige Subaru was launched in 2003.

Tackling all terrain: Members of the Asheville Women’s Cycling Team ride the roads, trails and mountains of WNC. From left to right: Stephanie Grant, Allison Hardy, Megan Sellers, Melissa Gelineau, Caroline Atkinds, Willie Mejia, Patricia Pinner and Tanya Nestvogel. Courtesy Asheville Women’s Cycling

Three years later, a noncompetitive cycling club was added to the mix, attracting many new members with diverse skill sets. Today, the Asheville Women’s Cycling Club boasts 60 members, and the competitive team has nine riders. Between them, they offer something for cyclists of all abilities and preferences.

“If you like to do it all, it’s a good team to be on, because we don’t restrict [riders] to any one kind of cycling,” says Pinner. “We have women racing on mountain bikes, road bikes, track cycling (fixed-gear bikes), adventure racing; we have women training for off-road triathlons and on-road triathlons. There are tremendous women athletes in the club, and we do pretty much everything that involves a bike.”

Team Subaru competes in at least 10 racing events a year. “There is no competitive pressure [among team members],” Pinner reports. “We all support each other. We want to encourage riding and don’t want to take the fun out of it.” Team riders must take racing seriously, though, because together they’ve won first place in a number of regional events, including the Charlotte’s Finest Duathlon, which includes a 5K run, a 15-mile bike ride and another 5K run.

“It’s an awesome feeling to toe the line of a race wearing the jersey of a team you respect and believe in. [During triathlons], my teammates, who are often my competitors, are [also] my biggest fans. Being part of the club brings the competitive edge down a notch, but definitely not the spirit,” notes Melissa Gelineau, who’s been riding as both a club and team member for three years. “We have a good time challenging ourselves and great fun the whole time we do it!”

The club makes it easy for women to connect with other riders, meet up for weekly events and coordinate longer rides. It’s also a valuable social network, says Pinner, because “it attracts like-minded individuals who love being outside and developing their fitness.” Many members juggle school, work and/or raising families, and being in the club gives them the extra incentive needed to make time for training.

Each year the club coordinates a number of events. One of the most popular is the annual “first-timers’ ride,” designed to attract new riders. “It’s so empowering to see these women—who have maybe never been on a mountain bike or a bike, period—come out and try it. Just trying it is huge,” says Pinner. Club members gather, meet the new participants, and together they embark on a five-mile ride up Town Mountain Road. It’s a big challenge for novices, but the sense of accomplishment they gain is well worth it, Pinner maintains. Most importantly, stresses Gelineau, “On our rides, no one gets left behind, and you’re sure to make a new friend.”

And whether cycling for fun or racing in a time trial, “It’s empowering to ride with other women,” Pinner notes. “If I see a woman do something, I believe that I can do it too—more so than [seeing] my husband or another guy. Seeing another woman overcome a challenge gives me the confidence to try it myself.”

Although the events hosted by the Asheville Women’s Cycling Club may sound intimidating at first, the club, stresses Pinner, is always open to new riders who want to learn what Asheville looks like from the seat of a bike.

Visit www.ashevillewomenscycling.com for more information.

About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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