The parking area of Le Meridien hotel in Newport Beach will be a dazzling feast of color and chrome when the "Women on a Roll" cycling event gets under way Sunday morning.
This second annual ride has local (and not-so-local) women thrilled to have an event all their own--one that spares them the inconvenience of being crushed, run over or otherwise humiliated by their male counterparts.
In this non-competitive event--there are no official winners--participants can choose between a 16-mile short course (around William Mason Regional Park) or a more challenging 35-mile course that stretches out to Irvine's Yale Loop.
"The whole race is basically in Irvine although it starts and finishes in Newport," said event coordinator Martha Koerner of City Sports magazine, one of the sponsors.
The course goes up around the Turtle Rock area, then loops around the park. At Mile 13 cyclists can opt for either the short or the long course.
Koerner said she has seen entry forms for participants as young as 13 and as old as 60.
'Half of the riders we get are from Orange County, about 8% from San Diego and another 40% or so from the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles and the South Bay,' Koerner said.'
The start of the race alone will take about an hour.
"We'll have a rolling start," Koerner explained, "which means we'll be starting the women off in waves from 8:30 until about 9:30 a.m."
Koerner said the event should draw close to 3,000 participants.
"When we planned the first one last year, we expected maybe 500 to 1,000 entrants," Koerner said, "but pre-registration was 1,500, and we got 500 more the day of the race.
"We had to cut our radio advertising the week before because we knew we wanted to keep it at 2,000."
This year, pre-registration the week of the race is already at 1,600, and race officials speculate that an almost equal number could sign up Sunday morning.
"I saw an ad in City Sports magazine last year," said Marsha Stanley, a teacher in Fullerton and a fairly serious cyclist. "I had just got a new bicycle six months before so I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to try a cycling event.
"It was really inspiring to see so many women dedicated to being in shape. Plus, it was far less threatening, less intimidating than races with men that (for a woman) can be dangerous.
"Last year's race was really well-organized for the amount of people participating," said Sue Loversky, 40, of Orange. "At the halfway mark they had oranges, apples and juices. It was great for someone like me who wasn't in a hurry and just wanted to enjoy the event. The only thing was that by the time my friends and I finished--and granted, we did not hurry--all the food was gone."
Koerner said that won't be a problem this year.
"We had package lunches last year and ran out. We won't have them this year, but we do have a number of vendors who will be setting up booths at the finish line and will stay until the race is over."
The women are expected to complete the course in 1 1/2 to 4 hours, depending on the course they choose and their level of skill.
"There will be three water stations or rest stops and support along the way," Koerner said. "And there will be a jazz band for people to listen to at the finish while they mill around the expo area."
Sponsors of the event--City Sports, Two Wheel Transit Authority, Le Meridien, Ski Optiks, New Balance and Giro helmets--are enthusiastic about the potential market the race represents and will help them reach.
The most recent National Sporting Goods Assn. participation survey indicates that women represent 52.4% of the total cycling market. Translated in more detail, that means 26 million women between the ages of 18 and 54.
Koerner agrees that the rise in cycling popularity among women has been hard to miss.
"Statistics indicate seven of 10 first-time (bicycle) buyers are women," Koerner said. "Additional statistics indicate 70% of cycle wear purchases are by women."
"It was a market we were looking to do more with," said Two Wheel Transit Authority owner Paul Moore. "I had a marketing guy looking (for a vehicle for us to draw women to the store). When we met with City Sports to discuss possibilities last year, I'm pretty sure the emphasis on all women came from us. We took on the role of producing the event in 1987."
This year, besides serving as one of 10 official bike shops for the event's required bike check, Two Wheel held a series of free workshops for women on training and bike maintenance.
Tonight at 7, Two Wheel will present its final free pre-event offering, "Extraordinary Women on a Roll" featuring 1987 Race Across America winner Casey Patterson. Patterson will appear at the company's Fountain Valley store at 8850 Warner Ave.
The $25 registration fee includes a T-shirt and water bottle as well as Ski Optiks Vader sunglasses. Le Meridien is offering a discount single- or double-room rate to riders for $74.
Helmets are mandatory, with pre-event bike checks strongly recommended.
And, for those without proper head gear, Giro will loan the first 200 needy riders helmets for the race .