A Rolling Community: The Komoot Women’s Rally

We hear from the riders of the 2022 Women’s Torino-Nice Rally

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Feature type Story

Published Nov 23, 2022

Author Gaby Thompson

Gaby Thompson Gaby Thompson is the global community manager at komoot and together with Lael Wilcox is behind the komoot Women’s bikepacking rallies. Passionate about getting more women to embark on big adventures and well as showcasing what kids are capable of in the outdoors on bikes, skis, climbing, and other adventures that capture their imaginations.

Dividing north west Italy and the south of France, the southern Alps form a rugged border of snow-capped summits, historical trading routes and modern day ski towns. One of the world’s most famous bikepacking routes sees riders zigzag a route along this border and across these mountains for 700 kilometres between the industrious Alp-fringed city of Turin and Nice on the French Riviera. This summer saw 48 women ride the route as one rolling community.

An open invite for women around the world to start the route together, the 2022 komoot Women’s Torino-Nice Rally saw 48 women from across the globe come together to take on the route together – leapfrogging one another, riding, camping and getting to know each other along the way. Between the Italian city of Turin and Nice on the French Riviera they faced endless switchbacks, rough dirt roads, rolling ridgelines and ten iconic mountain passes before eventually descending down to the Mediterranean. 

Riders of the rally are self-supported, choosing where and when to eat and sleep and how far they want to travel each day. The riding has a rhythm. The challenge is straightforward: climb the mountain, descend to the valley, eat pizza, pack provisions, fill water at the fountain, camp in the olive grove behind the church. But this was not a race. The only goal is to make it to the finishers’ party in Nice a week later.

Below, four women from the 2022 Women’s Torino-Nice Rally share their insights and experiences from this iconic ride.

Lael Wilcox

Originally from Alaska, I’m an ultra-distance bikepacker. I started riding when I was 20 to commute to work at a brewery. That quickly turned into travelling by bike and eventually long-distance racing. Then I worked for half the year in restaurants to save money to bike for the other half. Now, I get to ride full time. I love every minute I get to spend on my bike. I’m motivated to create opportunities to get more women and girls on bikes and I organise a girls’ riding program, women’s adventure scholarships and most recently, I’ve been collaborating with Gaby Thompson and komoot to host women’s bikepacking rallies.

It’s incredible to see women gain confidence and support each other along the way

The rallies are an opportunity for women from around the world to take on a challenging route together. Generally, these routes are about 700km with a mix of gravel and tarmac and plenty of climbing. Everyone starts together, but along the way, we ride at our own pace and take care of our needs – deciding when and where to eat and sleep and how far we want to go each day. Women tend to naturally form small groups so we spread out and smaller groups meet up for camping, meals and helping each other when difficulties arise. It’s hard, but it’s also a lot of fun. 

The rallies are some of my favourite weeks of the whole year. It’s incredible to see women gain confidence and support each other along the way.

Lei Mangubat

I learned to ride a bike as a child but it only became important to me when I realised it was easier to bike to and from work in the Philippines. That realisation and the knowledge that I could potentially go anywhere on a bike opened up so many doors. Being part of an outdoors club that was just as passionate about cycling helped make me feel less like an outsider cycling in Manila, where it wasn’t common to see women on bikes.

I first heard about the komoot Women’s Torino-Nice Rally on Lael’s Instagram in 2021 when she put out the invite for the first year. At the time, I was heavily pregnant, but I still signed up. A few days before the rally started, I had to bail out. I was gutted. Then, I saw the chance to sign up for Montañas Vacias. But four months post-partum, I was still recovering from an emergency C-section and I didn’t have the strength yet. I was so happy when a second chance to ride Torni-Nice appeared.

I made it to Turin, and 8 days later arrived in Nice, together with 47 other women. There are too many stories to share but what stands out are the bonds with the women in this rally. It was them that made this experience so unforgettable. Not knowing anyone coming into this rally, I was surprised to find I was never alone. Suffering together was way more manageable than alone. It takes a village to get you from the moment you commit – organising your time a bit better so that you can train more – to the women who pull you up and over the mountains. Not too many tears were shed. There were complaints but so, so many more laughs.

For so many riders that take on this route, the remote section dubbed Little Peru is a firm highlight. © Weronika Szalas

Emma Pooley

I moved from the UK to Switzerland about 17 years ago, where I’m an engineer with a side-gig in sport, cooking, and writing. I started road cycling in my 20s to cross-train for a running injury, then ended up racing professionally for a few years. I was lucky enough to go to a few Olympic and Commonwealth Games in cycling, and a few World Championships in both cycling and multi-sport. Three years ago I got into off-road cycling thanks to the encouragement of my friend Katherine Moore, who also persuaded me to try a ‘gravel’ event. Now, all-terrain bike adventures are my favourite way to travel and explore by bike, and bikepacking helps me train for ultra-running on the trails.

The komoot Women’s Torino-Nice Rally is a great way to try bikepacking and longer, more challenging routes for the first time. I wanted to be part of it to help encourage other women to try new things in the sport, because I remember how much the support of friends helped me when I was starting out. Even though everyone is self-sufficient on a rally like this, it’s reassuring to know that other people are around. And it’s so, so much fun to meet new people, ride together, camp together, seek snacks together, share the challenge. The struggles and the fun times. I think everyone learned something and by the end of the rally, there was a real feeling of empowerment and enthusiasm to take on more. So we all came away a bit stronger. Plus, of course, the Torino-Nice route is so beautiful! It’s glorious and tough – for everyone – but the great thing, which I didn’t realise beforehand, is how many options there are to shortcut and resupply, which makes it a lot easier mentally and physically.

Iris Slappendel

Born, raised and still living in the Netherlands, I have spent a big part of my life on two wheels, racing bikes all over the world as a professional cyclist. A few years ago, I exchanged speed for experience and now I just ride for fun. In daily life I design cycling apparel, commentate on women’s cycling on Eurosport and run an international women’s cycling union. And when there’s time left I love to ride gravel and mountain bikes for fun.

It felt very special to take on such a challenge together with a big group of women

Joining the Torino-Nice adventure was a very special experience to me. The route was absolutely amazing, it was really hard but also so much fun. But what I found even more special was riding with a group of women from different ages, backgrounds and such a big variety in equipment, preparation, fitness and experience for a trip like this one. It felt very special to take on such a challenge together with a big group of women which definitely brought us all together in just a few days. 

Now, the komoot women’s rally launch three more events to the bikepacking series for 2023. Click here for the full low down and details of how to get involved.

To view past rally routes, see upcoming events, and find out how to get involved visit the Women’s Rally komoot profile.
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