Anchorage — The secret to the Bike for Women's success isn't a secret at all. In fact it's pretty obvious.
Two simple words turned the bicycle time trial into the city's biggest bike race, an event that on Sunday will, weather permitting, draw a capacity field of 700 riders to Chugiak High.
Back in 1999, with participation waning, the Arctic Bicycle Club was searching for a way to attract new members.
"We were lucky to have 30 racers at our (season-opening) Moose Run time trial, and maybe 50 racers at the Tour of Anchorage," board member Ed Sniffen recalled in an email. "We had some races with only seven racers. And very few women. We were looking for a 'major' event that would spark more interest in the club and attract more women riders."
Former board member Glenn Schultes noticed that the most popular competitions in the city were those open to women only -- the Run for Women, the Ski for Women, the Gold Nugget Triathlon. He proposed a women's-only bike race, and just like that, the bike club had the major event it was looking for.
In 2001, Shannon Donley won an 11-mile, women-only time trial from Bartlett to Buckner Fieldhouse and back. The race was called the "Pre-Nugget" -- it was billed as a tuneup for the Gold Nugget Triathlon -- and it had 117 finishers.
The next year, the race had a new name -- the Bike for Women -- and more than twice the number of participants, 286. It was a relocated to Chugiak High and became a nine-miler, with Abigail Larson beating Janice Tower by one second for the victory.
"The rest is history," Sniffen said.
For several years, the field was capped at 500, and sometimes that limit was reached three days after entries opened. In recent years capacity has been 700, a number reached this year three weeks after entries opened in mid-February.
The race has become a rite of spring for many girls and women, as well as a goal for those in pursuit of a Triple Finish Patch, awarded to anyone who completes three of Anchorage's four women-only events.
And it has fulfilled its original purpose -- it injected new life into the Arctic Bicycle Club. At the club's season-opening Moose Run time trial, 141 riders competed, 63 of them women.
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.