It’s a mark of how segmented cycling has become that you’d be forgiven if you haven’t heard of Lael Wilcox. You won’t find her lined up at a UCI World Cup XC race, or a round of the EWS. Equally, she doesn’t make up part of the peloton in the pro road scene. If your chosen niche of riding is ultra-endurance events, though, her name tends to elicit hushed tones and a sense of awe. Lael races across entire countries and continents. She’s the rider who appears to be constantly smiling while doing so, who never appears to be tired while those around her eventually drop. She frequently wins, often outright, beating male competitors.
Lael probably first came to wider prominence in 2016, when she won the Trans Am race – cycling from the west coast to the east of America. She averaged 235 miles per day for 18 days, sleeping less than five hours each day. On the last day, Lael rode into first place, passing an exhausted Steffen Streich. He had recently woken, and in a still sleep-deprived state, set off riding in the wrong direction. Realising his mistake as she passed, he swung round and joined Lael. “Why don’t we finish together?” he suggested. Lael smiled and simply responded, “this is a race” and accelerated away with all her might. She chuckles as she recalls the story, but in the highly unlikely event that I’m in the same position, I’m very aware that it would be unwise to repeat the question.
Lael hadn’t exactly come from nowhere. She had set the women’s record on the Baja Divide and Tour Divide the year before, but it’s still a rarity to see a women win races outright. The world of ultra-endurance appears to be something of a leveling ground across genders. Outright power and strength counts for much less in comparison to the ability to endure for days on end. Male entries massively outweigh those from females, but things are changing. And as they do, more and more women are demonstrating they won’t just compete at the sharp end, but will win as well. Lael sits right at the front of the new guard. It’s a position that she seems very comfortable in.