Monday, April 27, 2009

RAAM 2009: Right around the corner

In just over 50 days, the solo racers will leave Oceanside, CA in their epic attempt to cross America the hard way arriving in Annapolis, MD some 8-9 days later. With “the world’s toughest bike race” just around the corner, I took a peek at the race’s website to get the juices flowing and to see what lies ahead. Like the Tour de France in July, RAAM provides plenty of spectacle and inspiration. I mean this race is 800 miles longer than the TDF and completed in less than half as many days! I KNOW I will never ride in Le Tour, but RAAM? Who knows, that might actually be possible.

RAAM mystifies me. 3000 miles, two epic mountain passes, days battling brutal prairie headwinds and searing desert heat, not to mention living for a week on a liquid diet and a few hours of sleep. Financing the ride, assembling a nine-person crew and mastering the logistics necessary to participate, though, makes riding the bike look like the easy part! The total cost for a solo racer is about $20,000 when you factor in entry and all of the transportation and crew costs! One of my favorite racers (whom I’ve never met, by the way) is Kevin Kaiser. I like following Kevin because he strikes me as a normal guy doing absolutely incredible things. Kevin is a racer with plenty of randonneuring experience who raced RAAM last year for the first time in the 2-person team division with his teammate Jeff Bauer. Riding as Team Gran Fondo Fixies, Kevin and Jeff finished in fourth position in 8 days, 4 hours and 21 minutes on FIXED-gear bikes! It was great to follow their blog as they crossed the country. My favorite post involved one of their bikes flying off the roof because one of the crew members forgot to secure a quick release. I mean that sounds like something I would do! Here’s a group of guys I can relate to! Learn more about Kevin and his first solo RAAM attempt on his website. You can also donate a few bucks to help off-set his cost.

As you can imagine, RAAM is filled with characters. The four-time reigning champion is the Slovenian cyclist Jure Robic. Robic is alleged to hallucinate and become motivated by chasing demons. He has been known to turn on his crew and hurl incoherent insults at them along the way. Robic, a family man with a young son who is also an active member of the Slovenian military, finished the race last year in 8 days, 23 hours, 33 minutes. Since his principal competitor, Austrian Gerhardt Gulewicz DNF-ed after a crash at mile 562 the field was wide open for Jure to win again. The second solo racer, Mark Pattinson, came in 23 hours behind Robic. This year, Robic and Gulewicz will be joined by Marko Baloh, also from Slovenia (what do they have in the water over there?) who currently holds the world 24-hour outdoor track record with a result of 553 miles!!! Baloh also won the 2-person team division in RAAM 2008.

RAAM is one hell of a race and increasingly easy to follow in real time. Many of the riders have blogs and Twitter accounts that will post updates in real time. The central RAAM office also maintains a blog and now a Facebook and Twitter presence, so it should be easier this year than ever to follow rider progress over the 8-9 days of the race. RAAM certainly won’t be covered on the major networks, ESPN or even Versus, except as one of those “psycho-human-interest” stories that punctuate slow news days, so the internet will be the place to look for updates as you spend a week in mid-June thinking “yup, they’re still racing . . .”

RESPECT! This race is EPIC and only in my wildest fantasies could I complete such a massive undertaking. I mentioned to my wife today that I’d like to hold this out as a lifetime goal for say, when I turn 50. She quickly reminded me that I would have two kids in college at that point and, by the way, where the hell did I expect to get $20,000?!? Well, with two college-aged kids and a wife, I think I just found 3 crew members . . .

RAAM 2015?!? We’ll see; it’s only 6 years off . . . Before that maybe it will be the Race Across the West (RAW) at 1044 miles or the Race Around Ireland at 1350 miles, both of which would be great preparation for RAAM and incredible achievements on their own.

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