Relay Across America: the Future of RAAM?

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in Velo News, August 24, 1992

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For the first time in the ten year history of the Race Across AMerica (RAAM), a special division was offered for team entry: four riders per team and no restrictions as to the combination of relaying and drafting within the team. However, given the chance to wheelsuck across America, all four teams decided they'd rather rest and relay across America instead. Team Manheim of Georgia brought the best riders, the biggest budget, and arguably the best rotation strategy conceivable to win the event hands down. They covered 2909 miles from Irvine, CA, to Savannah, GA, in 6 days and 37 minutes for an average of 20.1 mph and over 480 miles a day.

All this non-stop, 24 hours a day excitement got underway on July 26th, 46 hours after the solo men departed. (A new twist for RAAM this year was a staggered start designed to bring the various divisions’ finishers into Savannah more closely together.) Per race rules, all team racers rode out en masse for the first 24 miles under yellow flag conditions, then the racing and rotating began in earnest. Amazingly enough this would be the last time that Team Manheim or the second place team, Team Ultra Sports, would see each other or be seen by their competitors. It seems that even with team strategy, the potential for adequate rest, not to mention the option of drafting, big races still separate the men from the boys. By the finish, Team Ultra Sports of New Jersey would be 16 hours back and Team Ultimate Athlete of Virginia would be 26 hours back and two hours beyond the official finisher’s cutoff. A fourth special entrant team of eight riders, Team SCOR (Specialized Coronoary Outpatient Rehabilitation), of California also covered the distance in an effort to bring attention to the value of cycling in recovering from heart attack and surgery. Three of the riders were 60 or older and several had undergone open heart surgery.

All the team riders obviously did their homework for this new event, but they came up with three distinctly different strategies. During the race it became obvious that the choice of strategies had the profoundest impact on the overall results in the race. Here’s how they did it, with each rider on a team designated by an A, B, C, or D: Manheim riders paired off and rode one at a time, A-B, A-B, C-D, C-D, repeat, day in and day out. Each shift was 60 minutes during the day and 90 minutes at night. Ultra Sports riders paired off and rode one at a time, A-B, A-B, repeat, for twelve hours, then C-D, C-D, repeat for twelve hours. Each stint on the bike was 30 minutes. Ultimate Athlete used an approach like Ultra Sports, but did 90 minute to 3 hour stints in the saddle in 14 hour shifts. The upshot of all this number crunching? Team Manheim stayed fresher and faster.

With the RAAM Team Race, the "WHY?" Factor is at least more answerable than in the Solo RAAM: "It should be illegal to have this much fun! When I’m on my bike I can look down the road and have 20 minutes to go, but the solo racers look down the road and have maybe 2,000 miles to go!" explained Manheim’s Steve Simberg. Teammate Jim Kennedy, the Southern District Time Trial champ (45+), added "the Team Race is extremely difficult and challenging, but is still accessible and doable for mortals like us with real jobs and commitments. Plus it’s exciting to be a part of an event that we have admired for so long."

Is this the future of RAAM? It may well be, for the solo RAAM field had hardly grown since 1985 (about 30 riders annually), but rumors and speculation about the Team Race predict at least 12 team’s on next year’s starting line. It looks like several European countries will be represented, along with women’s team, and teams made up of former solo entrants. Picture this definitely plausible situation: a 50 rider field sprint into Savannah after 2900 miles of non-stop, head-to-head, team racing. With a ten plus minute spread between just first and third in the latest Tour de France, the RAAM Team Race may soon redefine the excitement factor in bicycle racing. Watch out!

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