The Tour de France gets underway July 5, but you don't have to wait until then to watch one of the most exciting bike races in the world. On June 10, 48 men and women will take off from the start line of the Race Across America (RAAM) in Oceanside, California. From there, it's a race to see who can reach the finish in Annapolis, Maryland first.
The cutoff is 12 days, and there are no stages or scheduled rest days. There's only the road and a clock that never stops running. Racers will ride day and night, barely stopping long enough to sleep. The best will make the crossing in less than nine days--roughly a third of the time it takes to complete a similar distance in the Tour de France.
Four days later, relay teams will embark on the same journey. They'll follow the same route across 13 states, riding more than 3,000 miles and climbing more than 150,000 vertical feet.
The participants will bring a stable of time trial and climbing-specific bikes, each fitted with state-of-the-art equipment worth more than the team cars used to carry them.
The RAAM organizers aren't in the habit of telling people they can't race because they don't fit in a specific category. In fact, there's really only one category--people who have the guts to try.
For instance, some will ride titanium-framed bikes built as early as 1988. Last year, the female champ rode a recumbent.
There's even a course record holder in the single-gear category and the 4-tandem relay team category. The wounded veterans use power cranks and hand-bikes.
If you've seen RAAM in person, then you know that it's even more exciting and grueling than the Tour de France. If you haven't seen it yet, this is going to be a great year to catch the action. Here's why this year promises to be one of the most exciting races in years.
The Solo Competition
This year's race will be one of the biggest in RAAM history. The event has gained so much popularity in recent years that the competition has risen to new levels. Here are a few racers to watch.
Christoph Strasser of Austria shattered the course record on the way to his second win last year, finishing in 7 days, 22 hours and 11 minutes. He owed his success to two remarkable decisions: riding a TT bike in the aero position across Kansas (and a few other states), and restricting his total sleep time to less than seven hours.
Strasser has beaten relay teams in ultra-cycling events like Race Around Ireland, accomplishments that make him one of the most extraordinary athletes in the world. The only question is whether he can go faster.