When Mary Breed entered her first triathlons and bike races as a way to get in shape between pregnancies over the past several years, she never dreamed it would lead her to the head of the pack.

Last year, in only her second season of bicycle racing, the Arlington resident won first place in the Masters (over-35) category at the USA Cycling National Championships in Ogden, Utah.

And last weekend, the 38-year-old finished first in the Grey County Road Race, representing her D.C.-area team, the National Capital Velo Club (NCVC). The hilly, 129-kilometer event, held in Ontario, is the North American qualifying race to compete in the UCI (International Cycling Union) Amateur Road World Championships, to be held in Denmark in September.

Breed locked in the win in her age group (35-39) when she broke away from a pack of about seven cyclists in the final moments of the race. A strong sprint up a final steep hill propelled her to the finish line.

“The closer we got to the finish line, the more excited I got,” Breed said. “I love uphill finishes. When I started my sprint with 200 meters to go, I got a great jump on the field.”

“I love to bike and I just needed a goal — something to motivate me to get out there and get back into shape,” competitive cyclist Mary Breed said. (Liz Vance/For The Washington Post)

Tom Godfrey, Breed’s NCVC teammate, calls Breed one of the most talented bicycle racers in the world.

“What’s even more amazing to me is that Mary just started racing bicycles a couple of years ago,” Godfrey said.

“Honestly, I would have been surprised to hear she did not win,” said Breed’s coach, Pete Lindeman, who saw her champion potential early based on her speed and strategy. “She’s really good at reading a race correctly, and doing what she needs to do to put herself in position to win. And when she puts herself in that position, she will win nine out of 10 times.”

It all started because Breed needed a workout goal between pregnancies.

“I love to swim, I love to bike and I just needed a goal — something to motivate me to get out there and get back into shape,” Breed said. She and her husband, Logan, also a competitive cyclist, started riding with an Arlington-based branch of NCVC, the largest amateur cycling club in the Washington area, two years ago.

Breed’s children, now in kindergarten, second, fourth and sixth grades in Arlington, often cheer her on at local races, she said.

“They know I work out and it’s something I care about, so it’s natural and I think it’s a good influence,” she said. “They just think this is what moms do. They see that they’re not always the center of the universe, which is really important, and they love coming and cheering me on at races.”

Logan is her greatest supporter, she said.

“He’s the one that says, ‘You’ve got to get up and go,’ ” Breed said. “If we’re going for a ride early in the morning and I want to get back to sleep, he says ‘Come on, let’s go — you’ll be glad you did.’ ”

Breed cycles about 12 hours a week by either hooking her bike into a stationary trainer at home or riding on area roads, avoiding bike trails as a general rule so she does not accidentally collide with slower riders — in her case, just about everybody else. To complement cycling, she takes yoga classes, adding CrossFit training during the fall and winter.

For the average weekend warrior, taking up a competitive sport after age 35 and winning national championships may not be attainable. But Breed encourages anyone wanting to try a new sport to go for it.

“Pick something, no matter what you’re interested in, and find a friend — somebody else who will run with you or meet up for a bike ride,” she said.

Finding a cycling group can be challenging for women, who are far outnumbered by men in the sport.

“Don’t be afraid to cycle with men,” Breed said. “There are really a lot more men that cycle than women, and at first that might feel slightly intimidating, but the guys are really kind and they give you lots of advice. If you join a club like the NCVC club, there’s always a group to ride with; it’s a really cool community.”

Lanyi is a freelance writer.