On August 4, more than 120 riders embarked on La Grande Boucle Feminine International, an 11-year-old race that's considered the "women's Tour de France."
Twenty-three-year-old Springs native Missy Thompson rides among these elite few.
Formerly a track cyclist, this was Thompson's first year on the road. Even so, she was chosen to ride with T-Mobile, a team sponsored by Voice Stream and organized through USA Cycling headquartered here at the Olympic Training Center.
Starting in Holland, the grueling two-week race is currently speeding across Belgium and France to the finish line in Paris. The racers begin their day around 9 in the morning and don't stop until they reach their assigned sleeping quarters.
Every second counts. There are no stops for food or water, which are carried on the bikes or grabbed as the riders zip past designated refreshment stations. There are also no official bathroom breaks during the long days women put on the road.
Interviewed just before she flew to Europe, Thompson spoke about the more important differences between men and women's racing.
"Women's racing is not as well funded or publicized," she says. "It doesn't attract the same level of sponsorship, but the sponsors are beginning to see that women are having more of a presence."
When asked what the winner gets, Thompson said, "I don't even know. It's just a huge accomplishment."
-- story and photo by Jane McBee