Ultramarathon-cyclist, Sarah Cooper, competing at Race Across the West (RAW) a punishing 930-mile race from Oceanside, CA to Durango, CO. Sarah set a new course record and scored first place for both men and women. Photo by Steve Fuller.
As the founders of Velorosa®, Kim and I originally thought about trying to connect with ultramarathon-cyclist, Sarah Cooper, in early 2016. We had been throwing around the idea of Velorosa sponsoring an elite rider, and knew Sarah would be a great choice. She is a local athlete who is well on her way to becoming a legend in the world of ultra-cycling, and we’re a Des Moines-based company that designs women’s cycling kits. Felt like the perfect fit.
We met Sarah for lunch in December. It resembled a first date; you’ve got a good feeling going in, but you’re still nervous and hoping you don’t come off too eager. Sarah had just spent the better part of her morning on her bike. And by ‘better part,’ I mean five hours. In December. In Iowa.
Sarah is a 45-year old mother of four. Her kids range in age from 11 to 16. Sarah told me she struggles to balance time in the saddle and time with her husband and kids. She’s a nurse practitioner by trade, but these days she’s either on the bike logging hundreds of miles a week, in the car shuttling kids around from piano to horse-back riding lessons, or racing. There isn’t time for much else.
At lunch, the three of us talked about our mutual biking friends in the Des Moines cycling community. We laughed about being middle-aged women who saw their bicycles as having changed the course of their lives. It just so happened that only one of us is ranked as one of the top ultra-cyclists in the world.
Sarah said she found the sport by accident. She began as a triathlete, with the bike being her strongest event. She started wandering farther away from home on every ride and realized her pace remained strong and steady. She could maintain it almost indefinitely.
Sarah first started competing in long-distance races in 2014. An ultra-cycling event is a continuous bike race that is no shorter than 200 miles. Sarah, or “Coop,” as her friends and race crew call her, burst into the national spotlight when she crushed the 930-mile Race Across the West (RAW) on June 17, 2016. It’s a ride that starts in Oceanside, California and ends in Durango, Colorado. She placed first overall and didn’t sleep more than 15 minutes over three days to become the fastest woman ever to complete the course.
RAW is punishing. Temperatures swing from sub-freezing and snow, to pounding sun and driving dust. There’s the desert. There’s the mountains. And everything in between.
RAW start line. Photo by Steve Fuller.
Since that June event, Sarah continues to smash records. In September, she was the fastest cyclist in the Texas Time Trials breaking both the men’s and women’s records by logging in 425 miles in 24 hours. She was the first person ever to break 400 miles in 24 hours on that course. In October, she was the top finisher in the Lone Star State’s No Country for Old Men 383-mile category.
Sarah competing in the No Country for Old Men Race in Texas. She was the top finisher in the 383-mile race category. Photo by Alexander Hernandez.
When I asked Sarah about the feeling she gets when she outrides everyone else, she’s quick to say both men and women have embraced her success. It’s clear she’s competitive, but not boastful. She described the sport of ultra-cycling as level a playing field as you can get between the sexes. It’s the athlete, the course and the bike. May the toughest riders finish, and the fastest one win.
Holding her "medal" from RAW 2016, Sarah is all smiles! Photo by Steve Fuller.
Velorosa will be the exclusive provider of Sarah’s racing wear for the 2017 season--and it’s a big season. Sarah will compete next month in the 24 Hours of Sebring in Florida aiming to ride 500 miles. After that, it’s Trans Iowa. Then, in June, Sarah will compete in the epic Race Across America (RAAM). The distance on that one? Roughly 3-thousand miles with fewer than two-weeks to finish. She may sleep 90 minutes a day, if she’s lucky.
There’s no doubt that luck plays a role in everything Sarah, Kim and I are trying to do. Starting a business and racing your bike share a few similarities: hard work, exhaustive planning, and unexpected setbacks mixed with a crazy optimism about what’s possible. Sarah Cooper is well on her way to changing the perceptions of what a woman can do on a bike. We’re so excited that we get to come along for the ride. Stay tuned as we unveil Sarah's custom kit and learn about how purchasing a limited edition jersey will help support her RAAM race in June, 2017.