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Cyclist believes group has curb appeal

Dirt Skirt Race Series for women bigger, better this year

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Andrea Richardson-Lipon is hoping more women saddle up and enjoy the ride.

Richardson-Lipon, 34, is one of several key organizers of the Velodonnas, a recreational cycling group for women across the city, which is intended to foster camaraderie and encourage participants to challenge themselves in a supportive environment.

"It doesn’t matter what level of cycling experience you have. Our group has members of all levels. We want everyone to come out and have fun," said Richardson-Lipon, an audiologist who lives in West Kildonan and was raised in St. Vital before heading to the U.S. for school.

Because of the busy schedules and parental commitments of group members, Richardson-Lipon said the group operates on a relatively casual basis, although it may become more structured in the future.

"When you have kids, it adds that extra layer, so it’s pretty informal at this point. Right now, it works. You just come when you want to," she said.

The Glenlawn Collegiate alumnus said the group meets regularly for a collective weekend road ride — either north of the city to Lockport, Man. or south of the Perimeter to St. Adolphe, Man.

"The experience is priceless. It shows women they can do this ride, regardless of their fitness or ability. It also shows them riding is fun. You leave everything behind at the car. It’s about the freedom of it and being in a different place," she said.

And although the group has been around for a decade after it was founded by former national team member Erin Carter — "it started because there was nowhere for women to meet and ride bikes," — this summer marks the growth of the Velodonnas’ Dirt Skirt Race Series.

Last year’s inaugural single-race event attracted around 50 individuals, to the pleasant surprise of organizers. The first of this year’s three series events last month, held at Birds Hill Park, featured nearly 40 women and children on mountain bikes.

Richardson-Lipon hopes to attract more participants to the next two races — an individual time trial at the park on Aug. 7 and a cyclo-cross event, involving obstacles, at Canadian Mennonite University on Sept. 11.

"We want to encourage women to try something new in a friendly atmosphere. They are not races per se, but more challenges," she said.

Richardson-Lipon also emphasized the potential domino effect and positive impact cycling can have on others.

"I have a young daughter, so it’s great to be a role model for her. It’s about women inspiring others to get out there and be active and try something new. Inspiring others is, I guess, part of what keeps us going."

Another member of the Velodonnas, Moni Robertson, 32, said the group plays an important role in the cycling community.

"It’s nice to ride with other females who enjoy the same things as you. It fosters camaraderie and competition," said Robertson, who lives in Norwood Flats.

"Cycling is a male-dominated sport, so we just want to show that females can also participate."  
For more information, visit dirtskirt.ca.

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