Anne-Marije Rook
Gina Kavesh raced in the Ballard Crit earlier this month. Kavesh has been racing for 17 years and has witnessed the women's peloton grow significantly in recent years. CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ANOTHER PHOTO

The Riding Reporter: a ride with Gina Kavesh, a matriarch of the local women's cycling scene

Interviewee: Gina Kavesh

Occupation: Owner of Renton Western Wear
Riding style: racing

Her ride: her commuter is a vintage Davidson with a carbon fork, titanium frame. "It's a great rain bike."

In recent years, Washington has become one of the top states for women's cycling, with separate categories for beginners, and prizes and incentives to do well for all.

With team rides, clinics, and a welcoming community, more and more women are discovering the sport of cycling.

I rode with a 17-year veteran of the local women's peloton, Gina Kavesh, who is considered one of the matriarchs of the local women's cycling scene.

She joined a cycling team in a time when women's cycling was just starting to catch on and only a few teams had women racers.

Bicycle racing is organized into various categories based on skill and ability levels. In Washington State, women’s category 4 is the starting point. Racers win points in every race they participate in and even more points for placing in the top 10. Once they earn enough points, they advance up to the next category.

Nowadays, beginners race strictly against fellow Cat 4 riders in races separate from the other categories. But when Gina started 17 years ago, beginners raced alongside the cat three, twos, and ones.

"If you were just beginning, you didn't have much hope," Gina joked. "You'd just hang in there as long as you could and you kept trying."

Gina said she joined a cycling team because of a friend.

"I never planned on racing but a friend of mine was super competitive. After riding with men for a while she said, 'There must be a lot of fast women out there, let's go find them'," Gina recalled.

"I found that there are a lot of fast women," Gina said laughing. "I didn't know what I was getting myself into and I suffered as a dog."

Gina grew up in a time before Title IX was passed and her father, like many people at that time, believed athletics was no place for girls.

"My dad had the "you're not going to get anything from it" attitude so I focused more on school," Gina said. So when she joined Gregg's cycling team at 29, she found her competitive, inner athlete.

"Bike racing will do that. When you're biking, your body is acclimating to so much stuff. Your body is changing, you lose weight, you're gaining muscle and you learn that what you thought was pain, really wasn't pain," she said.

Today, Gina races Cat 2 and is one of the stronger, all-around racers out there and has mentored a lot of fast women through the categories.

"The women's peloton has really grown. It's been fun to see," she said.

Women's cycling in the Pacific Northwest really saw a boost of popularity around 2000.

"A woman named Wendy Wahl was very motivated and started a Women's Race Series in the Seattle-area," Gina explained. "She became a big promoter of women's cycling and started to get organizers and race promoters to invest in women's racing.

Now, 11 years later, there are lots of teams with women and there's not just a Cat 4 series but also a Cat 3 series for intermediate cyclists.

"The women who are now racing in the upper categories, all had the opportunity to go through this series," Gina said, adding that a big aspect of being part of the women's peloton is to cultivate the new riders.

"The best part about teams like BikeSale and Team Group Health [the largest women's team in the Pacific Northwest] is the development part," she said. "Every year there are new riders and you get to see them come along through Cat 4 and a couple of years later they're riding side-by-side with you."

Gina is known for her valuable advice she offers to beginning racers. And if she's watching a race, she's likely to yell at the racers from the sideline.

"You don't go to Gina for compliments, you go to Gina to learn and fix what you did wrong," one racer recently told me at the beginning of a stage race.

With many accomplishments in her 17-year race career, including some national races, Gina said she's now at the point where she races to help her team and to make the race interesting.

The women in the racing scene are just as interesting as the races themselves.

When Gina joined at 29, she was considered one of the young ones and that hasn't changed much over the years.

Women from a vast array of athletic background - from ice skating to boxing - seem to discover cycling at a later age.

"Women tend to be a little bit older," Gina agreed, adding that women tend to interrupt competing in athletics to focus on a career and having a family.

"But the women also tend to be well-educated, intelligent and social," she said.

Like triathlon, cycling is expensive as it is gear intensive and training requires a large time commitment.

"But what appeals women to triathlon is competing against oneself, which is similar to Time Trial bike races and Cyclocross," Gina pointed out.

Road racing however, is very much a team sport.

"Most people don't realize how much of a team sport cycling is," Gina said. "And it is the hardest thing to teach."

Gina added that despite the fact that women come to bike racing from all walks of life and athletic backgrounds, there's a great bond in women's cycling.

"For me personally, all my friends in this stage of my life, I've met through riding," she said. "I love being surrounded with women that are even more Type A than me."

To learn more about women's cycling and the local teams, visit the Washington State Bicycle Association (WSBA) website and learn about Meet the Team rides. In early fall, many teams will recruit new members for the upcoming season by inviting them to a weekend ride with the team.

The Riding Reporter is a feature series in which BNT's bike-riding reporter, Anne-Marije Rook takes interviewees on a short bike ride around town to talk bicycles, transit, and any other issues that may arise when seeing the city from a two-wheeled point of view. Previous interviewees include Mayor Mike McGinn, ultra-cyclist Chris Ragsdale, bike messenger world champion Craig Etheridge, Executive Director of Cascade Bicycle Club Chuck Ayers, and more.

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