Race Across America: A Report from the Center of the Ultra Endurance Universe

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in The California Events Schedule, October 1993

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Though recently ranked by Outside magazine as the world's toughest endurance event, the Race Across AMerica, or RAAM, is an event of mere mortals, real people with real jobs. While the riders are consummate professionals and dedicated cyclists, they are not of the Tour de France pro genre. Instead, they fit their training in around work, family, and all the other obligations of life in the Nineties.

Held July 28 to August 9 from Irvine, CA, to Savannah, GA, the 11th annual RAAM was 2920 miles long. The racers passed through Las Vegas, Monument Valley, Durango, up and over Wolf Creek Pass (10,857 feet), then headed due east through Oklahoma and Arkansas, crossed the Mississippi at Memphis, rode the length of Tennessee, then dove south past Atlanta to the finish in Savannah.

Men's Solo Race: Drop Out City

Twenty men started, representing twelve states, plus the Phillipines, Sweden, and Switzerland. By the end, it was the lowest finishing rate ever: five official finishers, plus Bobby Thoren of Sweden rolled in beyond the 48 hour official finishing cutoff as well. It's unclear as to why the men fared so poorly in general, but there does seem to have been a collective malaise of some sort. Certainly, the conditions, while extreme, were no worse than other years. Once many of the top guns dropped out (Paul Solon, Rick Kent, Bruno Heer, and Steve Born, for example), it was an easy victory for Australian cyclist Gerry Tatrai, who had finished third in both 91 and 92. With so many riders dropping out behind him, he ended up with a 24 hour lead over second place Rob Kish of Port Orange, FL, who had won in 92. Realizing he had the race in the bag, Tatrai intentionally slowed down to help some of the stragglers make it in within the 48 hour window behind him! Cruising in to easy victory, Tatrai crossed the country in 8 days, 20 hours, 19 minutes. Kish placed 2nd, 17 hours later, earning his eighth finish out of eight starts between 85 and 93! Still, even with Tatrai's gracious slowing down, it took heroic and impressive efforts by Michael White of Cincinatti, OH, Tom Fanning of Gainesville, FL, and Scott Sturtz of Humboldt, IA, to make it in to Savannah within 48 hours of the Aussie. And it took guts for the Swede, Bobby Thoren, to press on, knowing he wouldn't be "official." But while 14 other men didn't see fit to show that kind of determination, Thoren did, and so our collecivte helmet should be off to him. Plus Thoren's time of 12:18:44 at least broke RAAM founder John Marino's 1978 transcontinental record to boot, an interesting and neat distinction.

Women's Race: The Women Show How It's Done

Just four women made it to the starting line, with two eventually bailing out, but don't think for a minute that this wasn't a race. For in the solo RAAM, the women's race was where all the action was in 93! Here's why:

It was a non-stop duel between 92 RAAM champ Seana Hogan of San Jose, who holds the San Francisco to Los Angeles record (beating the men's time, too!) and rookie RAAMer Muffy Ritz of Ketchum, ID. Ritz had placed 4th overall against the men at the Midwest RAAM Qualifier last August, qualifying for RAAM, then headed west last October to compete in the Furnace Creek 508, a 508 mile road race that passes through Death Valley. To the consternation of more than a few men, the cross-country ski coach placed 2nd overall, just 59 minutes behind the men's leader! She took hours off of the women's course record in the process.

1993 RAAM Results

Team PacifiCare/TREK, TX 6:05:31

Team Make-A-Wish, DC 6:06:46

Team Norway/Pactel, Norway 6:07:45

Team New Amsterdam Beer, NY 6:11:00

Team RAAM-ROD, GA & SC 6:21:39

Team SCOR, CA & TX 7:01:26

Team Patterson, VA & FL 7:01:54

Gerry Tatrai, Australia 8:20:19

Rob Kish, FL 9:13:08

Seana Hogan, CA 9:15:30

Muffy Ritz, ID 9:16:29

Michael White, OH 10:15:51

Tom Fanning, FL 10:18:14

Scott Sturtz, Iowa 10:20:10

Nick/Becky Gerlich, TX (tandem) 11:09:24

Bobby Thoren, Sweden (unofficial)12:18:44

Team Jibofo, AZ & TX D.N.F.

All eyes were on these two men-beaters to give quite a show in this year's RAAM, and Hogan and Ritz gave more than was ever imagined possible. The two battled it out, stroke for stroke, all the way across, even sprinting for the Queen of the Mountains prime awarded to the first woman over Wolf Creek Pass! At the finish they were a mere 59 minutes apart, with Hogan claiming the victory in 9 days, 15 hours, 30 minutes. Hogan became the first back-to-back women's champ ever, while she and Ritz placed 3rd and 4th overall against the men, yet another record. Also, the two posted the 2nd and 3rd fastest cross-country times ever for women, and Ritz's time is over two days faster than any previous rookie woman! It was a class act, from coast to coast.

The Team Race: RAAM for the Real World

Now in its second year, the Team RAAM is really taking off in popularity and competitiveness. The format is simple and infinitely doable: teams of four riders can use any combination of drafting and relaying within teams as they choose. Almost exclusively, the teams elect to just field one rider at a time, allowing the other three to rest up for an all out time trial of 30 to 90 minutes on the bike. The net result is a ruthless and relentless pace, a 25% quicker crossing than the solo men, and enough time off the bike to sleep and eat relatively decently. Plus the pre-race organizing and fund-raising burdens are shared by all four, making the event that much more accessible for cyclists of all types: USCF racers, triathletes, and fast century riders alike.

This year's Team RAAM was brutally tense, with four teams breaking off the front to set the pace. Taking an early, and permanent, lead was Team PacifiCare/TREK of San Antonio, TX, who went off the front at mile 60. Though always paranoid about their lead, the quartet of Cat Two and Three racers led all the way across, leaving in their wake a constant battle for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place. Heating up the action was Team Make-A-Wish of the DC area, comprised of two brothers, their father, and their best friend; Team Norway/Pactel, comprised of four top amateur road racers from Norway; and Team New Amsterdam Beer of New York state, which included returning RAAM team racer Kevin Clune, whose team placed 2nd in 92. Rounding out the field were Team RAAM-ROD from GA and SC and Team SCOR from SoCal, plus Team Patterson from VA and Team Jibofo from AZ and TX, both of which teams had one female rider.

By the finish, there was just a five and a half hour spread between the first four teams, with PacifiCare/TREK taking the honors in 6 days, 5 hours, 31 minutes. Though the pace in the Team RAAM is intense, having a foursome to share the workload really makes it RAAM for the Real World.

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