Jenny Jemison and Olga Fedorova figured two things would help them make the transition from bike riders to bike racers this summer.
"No. 1, look like a biker. No. 2, learn the lingo," said Jemison, 26.
A third thing also proved pivotal -- the Pocketful of Posies, a series of three all-female races staged by the Arctic Bicycle Club.
The event drew some of the biggest race crowds of the summer, including a turnout of 90 at both the hill climb and time trial. Exactly half of the racers, including Jemison and Fedorova, competed in the beginner division, a sign the series is doing exactly what it set out to do five years ago.
"The bike club has put on the women's-only series for several years now in an effort to get more ladies out competing," said Janice Tower, one of the city's top racers, who put on a 90-minute skills clinic for the newcomers before the series began. "They really thought that making it all women would make it a really friendly atmosphere and encourage more ladies to come out, and it appears to be working."
As cyclists gathered for last-minute instructions before Thursday's series-ending road race at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, you couldn't readily distinguish the beginners from those who raced in other divisions -- expert, sport, masters or juniors -- although they certainly asked the most questions.
They all wore an appropriate amount of Spandex and none showed up on a cruiser bike. For the most part, they met Jemison's criteria -- they dressed like bike racers and they sounded like bike racers.
"I've been bike-commuting for years, so I have the clothes and the helmet and the gloves," beginner Sherri Roberds, 46, said.
Roberds is a veteran of the Gold Nugget Triathlon, but that experience was nothing like what the Posies series served up -- a hill climb up Potter Valley Road, a time trial at Moose Run and a 13-mile road race at JBER.
As part of her preparation for joining the world of racing, Roberds gave her old commuter bike to her daughter and bought a new Novarra Carema Pro, an upgrade she's still giddy about.
"The old bike is like the mini-van I really do drive. The new bike is the Mustang I wish I had," she said.
She finished the road race with rosy cheeks and a big smile, even though she spent most of the race by herself once she lost contact with the pack ahead of her. For much of the 45 minutes she was on the course, she didn't get a glimpse of the peloton, except for the 11-rider express train of sport-division racers that roared past her on her second lap.
The road race drew a smaller field than the hill climb and time trial -- 20 beginners instead of 45. Kristin Wilkinson of the bike club speculated that some may have skipped it because a road race is perhaps the most intimidating kind of race for newcomers. While hill climbs and time trials have individual starts, a road race has a mass start, and usually the distance between a racer's rear wheel and the person behind them is paper-thin.
"The idea of being so close to other racers is scary," Wilkinson said. "Road races can be intimidating."
Any contact that may have occurred Thursday didn't lead to any spills. All but one of the 20 beginners finished and the one who didn't had a good excuse.
Laurie Edge, 48, dropped out after her first lap with a muscle cramp in her leg -- the aftereffect, she said, of either running the Mayor's Half-Marathon four days earlier or going on a trail run two days earlier. She suspected dehydration was to blame.
"I'm bummed," Edge said. "My friend dragged me out here and I wanted to do the whole series.
"I wish this wasn't the last race. I'm totally hooked."
Thursday marked Edge's first time in a road race, as it did for most of the beginners. Road races can get aggressive and sometimes even ugly.
"Everyone had warned me it was a really aggressive race so I was really nervous," said Jemison.
It was nerve-wracking, said Fedorova, 25. But it helped that the beginners did a "neutral" lap around the 4.2-mile loop in advance of their three-lap race. A couple of expert riders from the bike club accompanied them, offering tips on how to handle corners, how and when to pass and other things.
"They told us if you're going to pull away, do it when there's a headwind or an uphill," to bolster your chances of succeeding, Jemison said.
"And to keep someone ahead of you at all times," so you can draft off them, Fedorova said.
Jemison wound up as the top racer in the beginner division. She placed second in the road race but won the overall title for having the best results in all three races.
Roberds finished at the opposite end of the standings.
"My goal is to finish, preferably not last, but that's OK too," Roberds said. "If I can do it, almost anybody can."
She said racing in an all-women's field helped alleviate the pressure of doing something outside her comfort zone.
"There's so much encouragement," she said. "Even when they were passing me, I felt supported."
Jemison and Fedorova said they may not have tried racing had there not been a women's-only option.
"Women are really supportive," Jemison said. "When a woman pulls ahead of you, you just want to cheer for her."
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.