Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Good Week For Cycling Fans

Well, it's hard to believe that a whole week has gone by here on the HBC blog with nary a mention of the not one, not two, but three notable bike races going on.

Note: Calling any of these 'races' is a bit like calling a local 10K a 'race'. Most of the participants are not racing, they are just desperately trying to finish.

Of course the one everyone automatically thinks of is the Trans Am Bike Race. Just kidding, nobody thinks about it and it is utterly insane. It's half RAAM, half Tour Divide, and all crazy. Put on by a bike shop owner in Portland, basically a bunch of riders left Astoria on June 7, and they ride unsupported the 4,233 miles to the finish line in Virginia.

Live tracking is a new and cool phenomenon over the last couple years; so of course Trans Am has it. And not surprisingly the riders are spread all across the US.

The current leader is Mike Hall, a well known endurance rider who set an unofficial record on Tour Divide last year. But the race is hotly contested. Second place at only 120 miles behind is Jason Lane. I don't know anything about him except that he has inexplicably chosen to highlight his bicep in his profile picture.

Worth noting: both of these gentlemen are on pace for a time that would qualify as an official RAAM finish. Except they're riding without the benefit of a follow-car feeding them energy gels and giving them massages.

Interestingly fourth place is currently occupied by Juliana Buhring, a woman who apparently a few years ago decided to bike around the world, having not previously been a cyclist. That seems like a sure recipe for failure, except then she didn't fail and apparently in the process became the first woman to complete the feat. Her time isn't quite RAAM-worthy, but it's still impressive.

It will be interesting to see how this event pans out. I imagine that anyone who hasn't yet gotten through Idaho may not finish

Then of course there's the Tour Divide. Kind of like Trans Am but along the Continental Divide route, 2745 miles from Canada to Mexico. This race has been going on long enough to have a at least one bikumentary made about it. This year the organizers decided to mix it up a bit by offering a South to North route in addition to the North to South route.

It also has a live leaderboard, with a bunch of markers on it. In fact there are so many markers going every which way that I can't tell who's in the lead, which makes the leaderboard pretty useless.

Both the Trans Am and the Tour Divide routes go through the small town of Rawlins, Wyoming, a two-horse town that must be amused to be the center of the endurance cycling world for a brief while. Imagine if you will being beset upon by cyclists, converging at the same time from the North, the South, and the West.

Finally of course there is the least of the three major events, RAAM. RAAM's decline deserves a post of its own, so that will no doubt be forthcoming soon. However it is still a remarkable spectacle, with Christoph Strasser blowing away the old record with an average pace of 16.42 MPH for 3,020 miles. That's 30 6-hour centuries, back-to-back, with 20 miles tacked on for good measure.

He finished nearly 1 1/2 days ahead of his nearest competitor. It wasn't even a race.

The gals on the other hand are managing to keep it close to the very end, with about 120 miles separating them at this point. Until recently it has been even closer. It appears though that the American Janice Sheufelt will pull out the win.

There was further drama in the relays, but to be honest I have a tough time getting particularly excited about those divisions. While merely finishing RAAM solo is a remarkable accomplishment, finishing as a relay just doesn't strike me as the same caliber of achievement.

So anyway it was a good week for endurance cycling, and a lousy week for getting work done. It's worth continuing to watch the Tour Divide


Max said...

A good run-down. The Mike Hall-Jason Lane race is pretty cool, because it is, in fact, a race.

In TD, Jefe Branham -- with the single coolest first name in cycling, IMO -- is leading Big Dave Wilson by a Strasser-like margin.

I have a new theory of dominance in these races. Precious few top competitors come back year after year. Mike Hall has moved on to Trans Am; Jay Petervery is doing whatever he does (the website says something about Arizona and Italy?).

Re: RAAM, remember Mike Trevino from the first documentary and Chris MacDonald from the second -- both Americans who finished second with respectable gaps on Robic? Both were the real deal: Trevino had qualified with a 463-mile first place in a now-defunct UMCA time trial, which he later improved to 481 miles and he had won Badwater to boot. (Actually, check out Trevino's list of accomplishments from ~10 years ago. This guy graduated Cornell not far removed from me and proved to be a ultra prodigy.

MacDonald had qualified for RAAM with the (still standing) 500-mile course record at Sebring. I assume both have moved on to life and careers that don't involve ultra-distance bike racing.

You have a long tail on the distribution in the best of circumstances and a short career, at least in a given event, for the average person represented beyond the second stdev. Any wonder that the one guy/gal who left out there racing year after year is all alone?

And I can't wait to read why RAAM is on the decline. Any chance the argument will include a statement about the biological limit of human cross-country cycling speed?

Max said...

One more: looking at the pictures from OregonLive, I can almost taste the stomach pit that most of the crowd must have been enduring. We all know what it is like for a pre-dawn start to a 400K, 600K, even 1200K. You want to be sleeping, you are half excited to be riding, and you are scared out of your mind w/r/t/ the unknown. And the road looks really, really dark. Can you imagine the same feeling when the road stretches ~4200 miles into the sunrise?

sam said...

Yes, agreed. The 5% - 10% of the field that are actually accomplished endurance racers are probably feeling very little of that. Most of the rest are probably wondering what the heck they're doing. And 5% are trying to figure out how to crash as quickly as possible, with sufficient injury to legitimize a DNF, but not so much as to cause permanent harm.