Maria del Pilar Vazquez is on her way to becoming the first Puerto Rican woman to cycle the entire Tour de France course.

Vazquez, a 40-year-old mother of three, admitted to Efe on Monday during a telephone interview from France on her day of rest after completing 15 stages, that the experience is "pretty tough" and that she sometimes wonders why she decided to take on this challenge.

But, she said, "I'm a defiant woman who likes challenges, and this is literally a life-changing experience. I'll go back feeling like another person, like I've been through a process of detoxing and cleansing the soul."

This is the first time a group of female cyclists will have finished all stages of the Tour de France, a competition for men only, and they're doing it just before the official race starts.

The Reve (French for "dream") group has organized this parallel race on behalf of the Bikes Belong organization, which has promoted cycling since 1999.

The rest of the Reve team is made up of Americans Kate Powlison, Heidi Swift, Jennifer Cree, Kym Fant and Kristen Peterson, all younger than Vazquez.

She joined the group after a friend recommended her to the leader of the team, after which Vazquez became the first Puerto Rican woman to finish the Paris-Brest-Paris stage, a distance of 1,200 kilometers (745 miles).

Before Vazquez flew to France for this parallel race, she trained by cycling more than 5,600 kilometers (3,480 miles) between March and June.

"This is an experience that not even many professionals will ever have. It shows we're trying to get more women cycling and that a woman with a family can do it," she said.

Vazquez has suffered a number of mishaps so far in France, including being hit by a car last Friday and fracturing a hip.

She was afraid that would stop her from finishing that day's race, but in the end she decided to get back on her bicycle and complete that stage.

Vazquez's husband, Steven Rolon, told Efe how proud he is of his wife.

"You have no idea what I feel for that woman. It's a sacrifice, I won't deny it. To be without your wife for a month is hard, but this is her dream and mine too. If I'd had the chance to do it, I would have done it as well. People feel really fulfilled when they achieve such things," he said.

Rolon is confident that his wife and the rest of the team will complete the trial "with no problems."

"One reason that drives these cyclists to break with the regulations that exclude women is precisely to show that they not only have the physical strength but the courage and endurance needed to see this race through to the end," Rolon said.

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