1996 Team RAAM: Across America at the Anaerobic Threshold

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in Velo News, Vol. 25, No. 15, September 9, 1996, and ULTRA Cycling, October 1996

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Savannah, GA - "Faster than the Tour de France. Longer than the Tour de France. Tougher than the Tour de France. " So said John Frey, 40K national record holder and one of American's top competitive cyclists, as he stood at the finish line of the 1996 Race Across America. This was no tongue in cheek statement.

The fifth annual Team RAAM began on August 4 and traveled 2905 miles against and around the clock from Irvine, CA, to Savannah, GA via Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee. A field of 68 racers representing 16 teams, 14 States, and 4 countries time trialed relay style coast to coast, setting numerous records in the process and continuing with the secret revolution which has all but reinvented the sport of bicycle racing here in the United States.

Forget about the old image of RAAM as bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived riders pedaling masochisticly across the continent, concerned more with saddle sores and hallucinations than their competition. While that image has never really been accurate, what is true is that Team RAAM, featuring four rider relay teams who rotate riders every 15 to 45 minutes, 24 hours a day, in a transcontinental drag race, is the fastest, toughest, and longest bicycle race the world over.

The lead teams this year were, not surprisingly, former race champions themselves, and they all acknowledged the historical precedent that the first or second teams out of California would eventually lead the race into Georgia. Teams PacifiCare of San Antonio, Texas and Kern Wheelmen and Action Sports of Bakersfield, CA all dueled for the lead with close to 30 mph averages over the first 250 miles of the race. PacifiCare was first to the state line, but the effort, made possible by taking three to five mile pulls at their anaerobic threshold, cost them dearly as the race climbed to the 500 mile mark in Flagstaff, AZ. There, Action Sports had taken the lead by eleven minutes over Kern Wheelmen and seventeen minutes over PacifiCare.



Kern Wheelmen 5:06:04

Action Sports 5:08:12

PacifiCare 5:08:20

Belimo 6:01:17

GSVST-AMS 6:02:37

No Retreat No Surrender 6:05:46

Claritin 6:11:51


Gale Force 6:12:28


Arthur Andersen 6:07:34


TwoCan 6:02:55

MEN'S 50+

Bicycling Magazine 5:11:21

KCRAAMers 6:14:59


Motorola W4 7:17:30

MEN'S 60+

Secure Horizons/SCOR 8:07:06

MEN'S 70+

70 Plus 9:02:27

Action Sports held onto that lead for 600 miles, with Kern never more than five minutes back, until the Kern riders took the lead in Alamosa, CO at mile 987. The two teams, made up mostly of former teammates from the previous two years, pushed the pace across middle America and stayed within fifteen minutes of one another, while PacifiCare nipped at their heels. By Shawnee, OK, Action Sports had taken the lead back and were handed a windfall with Kern's taking a wrong turn as they left town. Action Sports, though, failed to pounce on the opportunity and Kern rallied to quickly erase the 45 minute deficit that their navigational error had cost them.

The Kern Wheelmen stayed within a few minutes of Action Sports across Oklahoma, then took the lead decisively in Brinkley, AR at mile 2053. This was the last time they'd see the back wheel of Action Sports, especially once they put the hammer down in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. Closing in on Georgia, Kern Wheelmen closed ranks and rode with nearly reckless abandon, breaking Action Sports' will once and for all. The strategy worked and left Action Sports, already mentally and emotionally exhausted from racing so hard for 2500 miles, in a total funk. Kern's team included 40k record holder John Frey, Cat One/Two racers Jim Warsa and Ron Jones, as well as Joe Pedersen, the five time California time trial champ who had led the team with Jones to victory in 1995. With these riders and this strategy, Kern's eleven minute lead climbed to seventeen, then forty-three as Action Sports' effort disintegrated on the roadside.

Kern Wheelmen established a new world record mark of five days, six hours, and four minutes, for an overall average speed of 23.0 mph, while Action Sports rolled across the line two hours and eight minutes back, followed just eight minutes later by PacifiCare, who had ridden a four man team trial for the final 75 miles to close the gap. Team Gale Force of Sarasota, FL rode across unchallenged in the women's division, setting a new women's team record of six days, twelve hours, twenty-eight minutes. Team Bicycling Magazine's 50+ team established a new master's record of five days, eleven hours, and 21 minutes, while Team Motorola W4 set the women's 50+ record of seven days, seventeen hours, thirty minutes. Team Arthur Andersen of Atlanta, GA won the mixed division with a time of six days, seven hours, thirty-four minutes. An eight rider tandem team record of six days, two hours, fifty-five minutes was established by Team TwoCan, while Team 70 Plus set a 70+ record (yes, 70+!) of nine days, two hours, twenty-seven minutes.

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