Inside the World of Women’s Elite Cycling

It’s cold. Like 35-feels-like-28 cold. The park’s empty. Six-thirty a.m. Women ride by on carbon-fiber bikes, jostling for position out front. Wind whistles through leafless trees. Along the course, there are no spectators; a man jogs by with his dog off-leash. On Harlem Hill, the pace picks up, two women drop off the back. No snow on the ground, no ice on the reservoir, the stoic deadness of winter locks the landscape. The riders roll past, motion blurs on the undulating west and south sides of Central Park. The peloton rejoins. Final lap. At the finish line, two officials sit alone, bundled in layers of down. Six miles pass; the group enters the last corner, where a rogue ambulance flanks the pavement to the right, bumping the peloton left, swallowing up the women in red and blue kits, slowing them down. They fight to reach the front and manage to land one in third. Helmeted heads hang. Sweat forms despite the cold. Riding back on Fifth Avenue, the mood is a mix of buoyancy and regret. Racing season is back, but no one likes to lose.

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Matthew Ankeny