jenn fields
The day before the 2012 Tour de France began, Kate Powlison and Kristen Peterson, both of Boulder, joined four other women in pedaling out ahead of the boys of the pro peloton on the 2,162-mile course. Every day for three weeks, these six women -- all amateur cyclists -- rode the Tour de France route one day ahead of the race.

Going in, they weren't entirely sure they'd make it. (I wasn't either -- when a press release about the gals landed in my inbox just before the start of the Tour, I decided to wait and see.) But that was part of the beauty of the endeavor.

“I proved to myself that I can do things that I never thought I could,” Powlison said. “Coming into this, we weren't sure we were going to finish. It was really cool to complete something you don't know you can finish.”

Powlison, 27, works for Bikes Belong, a national cycling advocacy organization based in Boulder. (The women's Tour ride served as a benefit for the organization; you can still donate at reve.cc, Powlison was quick to point out.) She loves bikes and rides often but isn't a professional cyclist. She races cyclocross -- but those races last about 45 minutes. This challenge called for being in the saddle for most of the day, nearly every day, for three weeks, and tackling huge climbs along the way. 

Powlison turned to local cycling coach Colby Pearce for a training plan and signed up for a ride from Boston to Washington that benefits Bikes Belong, Tim Johnson's Ride on Washington.

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“It was a good way to get an idea of what it's like to be on my bike for seven, eight hours at a time,” she said.

But even with this ride and all of the training, it was hard to simulate their pre-Tour pedal. 

“I had no idea after the fifth or sixth day in a row what it would feel like,” she said. But it worked out. Their bodies cooperated with the load, and in some ways, going all the way to France to focus on nothing but pedaling the Tour route was easier than being at home with a million distractions.

“A lot of it was mental, too, because riding at home for eight hours is difficult, because you have all this stuff to do, but over there, all you have to do is ride.”

Since the six gals were pedaling a day ahead of the pro peloton, they didn't have the benefit of a closed course.

“We were doing it without closed roads, and some of the roads they go on are basically highways you'd never, ever want to ride a bike on,” she said.

Like the Tour riders, they had support from a vehicle. But for a day in the Alps, they were forced to leave the support behind.

“There was one day where Kristen and I ended up outpacing our support vehicle, and the road we were on ended up being closed to vehicles,” she said. “And it poured rain, and we didn't have any of our rain- or cold-weather gear. We realized we had to keep riding.”

They dumped trash out of the “official” Tour de France garbage bags that were already on the route and used them to cover up, she said with a laugh.

The Alps were stunning, she said, and different from riding in Colorado. Still, she thought, after this she wouldn't want to look at her bike for a year. But back in Boulder, she couldn't resist. I talked to her two days after her return, and she'd already pedaled up Flagstaff Mountain.