Conduisez votre vélo en toute sécurité, Daphné

This week, VSA Partners’ Daphne Karagianis travels from Utrecht, Holland to Paris. But this is no ordinary journey—she’s biking the first-ever Roadtrip to Paris, a 550-kilometer trip made by a group of 40 women from 13 countries, aged 24-50. The route ends in Paris the day of the final leg of this year’s Tour de France. The tour was organized by Dutch cycling superstar Marianne Vos, multiple Olympic medal winner, multiple world championship racer, multiple World Road Race Champion and multiple World Cyclocross Champion. As she said on her blog, Roadtrip to Paris is a “confirmation that women’s cycling is alive,” and it’s the largest of its kind in women’s cycling.

Roadtrip to Paris ends tomorrow when the riders arrive in the French capital after four days on the road. They’re able to get some rest tomorrow night before Sunday’s festivities: Vos and other internationally known riders will ride the final circuit of 90 kilometers and finish down the Champs-Élysées before the Tour de France competitors arrive, in an event called La Course. The race will be broadcast internationally on the Universal Sports Network and, as the first time it’s been held, will set the stage for future races.

Karagianis works by day as a Senior Designer in VSA’s Consumer Marketing Practice in Chicago, but she shares it with a passion for cycling competitively with the Chicago Cuttin Crew and, sometimes, the all-women Les Petites Victoires. “The first races I ever did were alleycat races around Chicago,” she recalled from France, after a leg of the Roadtrip to Paris ended. “It was like a day in the life of a bike messenger—knowing where you’re going and getting there fast is the key to winning. I’ve always been competitive and I embraced the challenge of combining street smarts with speed.” She obtained a USAC racing license in 2009 and steadily began ascending through the USAC’s racing categories, starting with Category 4, which she conquered by becoming its Illinois Cup State Champion. She’s currently a Category 1 racer and races with PRO-level women, some of whom are in the La Course race on Sunday. “It gives me confidence that I might someday be in that race too,” she said. “Most of the top professionals and Olympians are in their late 30s; in cycling, women only get better with age, and I have years and years to keep improving.”

Karagianis’ travels have taken her far and wide, and given her numerous unforgettable moments. There was the Frozen Snot Century, featuring a 100-mile ride to Milwaukee and back to Chicago over two days in the winter. Another Milwaukee experience was the Riverwest 24, a 24-hour race around the Riverwest neighborhood, where in 2012 her team placed second and was recognized as the first all-female team at the podium in the race’s history. There was the descent down Mount Diablo where she hit 50 mph on her bike. There was the 25-mile climb up a mountain near Los Angeles, the longest climb in the country. “I was really proud of winning the Illinois State Championship for the Madison race at the Northbrook Velodrome. If you check out videos of Madison courses on YouTube, you can see how crazy they get,” she added. Earlier this summer, she raced in the Rapha Prestige in the Bay Area, and called it one of her most awe-inspiring courses.

“The bike is a place to clear your head,” Karagianis reflected on cycling. “Once I start a ride, my mind stops running and finds peace and quiet. My goals on my bike translate to those for my life and work.” She looks to combine cycling and art whenever possible, as at Chicago’s 2012 edition of Artcrank, a screenprinted poster show with a cycling theme; in designing the Cuttin Crew website; and in creating branding for the Cycle Messenger World Championships in Chicago in 2012.

Karagianis has taken photos of the team’s experiences along the way, as well as posting to the Instagram account for Ten Speed Hero, the retailer for some very well-designed gear and a Cuttin Crew team sponsor. “They [TSH] have been absolutely critical in getting me here. Everyone should own a pair of their socks. It’s great to be cheered on by my home team, and they’ve blogged about my trip.” And her VSA coworkers are following her journey every step of the way too.

Follow along with Karagianis’ journey today and tomorrow at Les Petites Victoires’ Twitter account, and follow her Cuttin Crew team on Twitter and Facebook. La Course begins at 7:30 am EST on Sunday morning on the Universal Sports Network; Karagianis and her Roadtrip to Paris teammates will be front and center supporting Vos and the other cyclists. “Marianne’s full of positivity and has a very strong work ethic; she’s giving women’s cycling a face and the recognition it deserves. Hopefully this trip will continue on for years to come and the support around La Course will grow even greater,” she said. “My mother thinks I’m the next Lance Armstrong, only ‘healthy and honest.’ I hope to make her proud.”

Cover photo courtesy of Daphne Karagianis on behalf of Chicago Cuttin Crew. Photo of Karagianis and Marianne Vos courtesy of Karagianis. Photo of Karagianis courtesy of Ten Speed Hero.