Jessica Phillips organizes women's pro stage race
Pro cyclist Jessica Phillips is not the type to sit on the sideline or throw out excuses. So when the press release for the USA Men's Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado did not include a female event, she pushed up her sleeves and got to work. Phillips co-created Team Ajax Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on propelling women's cycling to where it deserves to be -- right alongside men's.
"I am from Aspen, so even though everyone was so excited about the USA Pro-Cycling Challenge coming through town during the second stage of the race, I just wasn't. Maybe its selfish but I could not get fired up about it since women were not a part of the event."
Pairing with her cycling team/nonprofit organization Team Ajax Tavern, Phillips polled the female cycling community to see what needed to be done to get the top teams involved in staging a new event alongside the men's. The answer? A professional female multiday event, the Aspen/Snowmass Women's Pro Stage Race, to be held August 22-24 in Aspen in synchronicity with the men's Cycling Challenge.
"This is not a profit thing for me," said Phillips, who won the U.S. national time trial championship in 2009 and the U.S. road championship in 2002. "I want to build an organization that can continually promote and raise the level of women's cycling and young women's athletic programs. We are not making a dime off the race, we are just doing it to show people how great women's cycling is!"
Phillips' Ajax business card reads CSO, for chief social organizer, which she readily admits is her main job. "Because I raced professionally, I have the connections within the sport which allows me access to the riders and media, but I could never put on this race without co-founders Jan Koorn and Justin Todd, because they do the tough administrative work."
The three days of racing will include a 10-mile uphill time trial to the scenic Maroon Bells, a rolling-hills circuit race in the Snowmass Village, and a criterium held on the men's finishing circuit one hour before their estimated arrival in downtown Aspen. Philllips is hoping to get live television coverage for part of the event through Versus, and an as many as 50,000 spectators could be on hand to watch both events.
Having observed many big U.S. cycling events, Phillips believes the downtime before the men finish is a perfect time for female cycling to be showcased. "I think that it might help to ride the coattails of men's cycling. The roads are closed and the spectators are already in place, why not just throw in a women's race – understanding, of course, that it does require a lot of additional work. Also, I have a funny belief that it can be a trickle-down effect. If men's cycling could help out women's cycling, then women's cycling could help out junior cycling, and so on."
The HTC-Highroad and Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12 teams will be racing, and the riders will include Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong and current national champion Robin Farina. A total of 50 to 70 Professional and Elite competitors from around the world are expected.
Racers will receive points for each stage, with the winner being the rider with the highest accumulated total. They will be able to participate in each stage in order to promote aggressive riding and ensure that no one travels for only two days of competition. And not to be outdone by the Podium Girls in the Tour de France, Phillips has lined up Podium Boys to hand out awards for each stage.
The Aspen/Snowmass Women's Pro Stage Race has been well received, with encouraging response from private and corporate sponsors, including title sponsor UnitedHealthcare and part-time Aspen resident Lance Armstrong. Phillips knows Aspen isn't cheap, and with a lack of funds being a major issue in women's cycling, she is working on lodging for competitors and hoping the lure of racing in a high-profile, multiday event and the $10,000 purse will make the trip worthwhile. "It would be great if women could get a bit more financial support, so professional cyclists don't need another full-time job just to make ends meet," she said.
Phillips will be racing for the Ajax Tavern Team. "What I am really excited for," she said, "is showing the riders, teams, staff, media, spectators and the town of Aspen what an awesome race Team Ajax Inc. has put together and how frickin' fast women cyclists are!"