Team Race Across AMerica
Differing Approaches to Relay Racing

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in ULTRA Cycling, Winter 1994

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Well, we've all seen the results and read the stories about the first ever four rider relay transcontinental bicycle races. In 1992 there were three teams out to test the waters, while in 1993 the field had grown to eight teams. The two races were markedly different, yet there's more to this type of racing than meets the eye, for team racing is the future of endurance cycling. But more on that in the next issue.

Compare and Contrast: the Routes

Though only one mile different in length and sharing the same start and finish lines in Irvine, CA, and Savannah, GA, the 92 and 93 RAAM routes were awesomely different. The 92 race route was flatter, faster, and decidely homogeneous, if not downright boring, as compared to the 93 race. Contrast California, Arizona, New Mexico, Teaxs, Texas, and more Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia in 92 to California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia in 93. Compare their respective highest points: an unmarked, totally insignificant bump in the highway at elevation 8100 feet and mile 751 in New Mexico in 92, versus the infamous Wolf Creek Pass at elevation 10,857 feet at mile 942 in Colorado in 93. And consider the oppressive heat and humidity, and numbing 911 miles in Texas alone that 92 offered. Heat and humidity are a drag, but there's no bigger drag than gravity, so 93 has to get the nod in terms of overall difficulty. (And it did reach 122 degrees, or some claim 128, on day one of the 93 RAAM, anyway. But the heat definitely wasn't there in 93 comparitvely. In fact, it rained, even downright poured, regularly, once the riders were east of the Rockies.) The 94 race will use 99% the same route as 93. Riders best be prepared to climb.

Compare and Contrast: the Racers

The 92 teams were made up primarily of triathletes, including the champions, Team Manheim. Manheim really seemed triathlete, through and through: they rode steep seat angle, titanium Quintana Roo bicycles with 26" wheels, including chromed-out J-discs (pseudo disc wheels) on the rear. They were absolutely glued to their aero handlebars, which, in true tri fashion, were cowhorn bars with an aero clip-on attached. Skinsuits and CamelBaks competed the aero set-up and solidified their tri-ness.

The 93 teams were decidely more diverse, with triathlon, USCF, speedy UMCAer, and even mountain bike backgrounds. The champions, Team PacifiCare/Trek, were USCF racers through and through with additional mountain bike racing pedigree to an extent as well. However, as readers begin curling up your noses at the thought of hard-core USCFers winning RAAM, let me point out that the Texas foursome was so incredibly congenial that it was nearly impossible to believe they were card-carrying USCFers. (This friendliness was not unique to them, though. Manheim and the other 92 and 93 teams were all wonderful folks across the board!)

As for PacifiCare/Trek, they're all Cat Two or Three and a bit younger than Manheim, an average of 35.25 versus 39.75. They rode USCF-looking bikes as well: all black Trek 5200's, the Kestrel look-alike model, with dual control Shimano components and drop handlebars with clip-ons attached. Seat angles were standard fare and wheels the traditional 700c, usually the deep section Zipp wheels. Shorts and jerseys, rarely clean or even dry, were the wardrobe.

Compare and Contrast: the Method

As far as logistical approach, Manheim was decidely more upscale and sophisticated. They had fourteen crew, three mini-vans, and a huge motorhome, while PacifiCare/Trek had just three minivans and ten crew with no motorhome. Manheim often utilized motel rooms for showers, as well as their motorhome. PacifiCare/Trek riders got just one shower the whole week, slept only in moving mini-vans, and eventually ran out of clean clothes. Their approach didn't allow any vehicle to be gone for very long, so if the crew got to a laundromat, it was just to dry out the dirty and rain-soaked bike clothes. Then all the clothes went in a heap and riders grabbed whatever was dry, fit reasonably well, and didn't smell too bad. Manheim, by contrast, even had matching, custom-logoized duffel bags for each rider and crew member!

Perhaps the greatest difference between the two champion teams, though, was their rotation strategy. In short, Manheim had one and PacifiCare/Trek did not. Both teams only fielded one rider at a time, but the similarities end there. Manheim riders were like machines set at one speed: fast, and in one rotation schedule: consistent. Here's what Manheim did: each rider was either A, B, C, or D for the duration of the race and they followed a never wavering schedule as follows: A-B-A-B-C-D-C-D, and repeat, for the entire race. The shifts were one hour during the day and ninety minutes at night, thus it went like this from any individual rider's perspective: Day- sixty on, sixty off, sixty on, five hours off. Night- ninety on, ninety off, ninety on, seven and a half hours off. This allowed for short breaks and long, sleep and shower and solid food-oriented breaks. Brilliant. And amazingly, the Manheim boys were able to stick to this schedule. Manheim's average speed was 20.13mph and their finishing time was six days, thirty-seven minutes.

PacifiCare/Trek, too, was set on one speed: fast, but otherwise had a different approach. Whoever felt good, rode, for as long they felt good. This was usually 45 to 90 minutes, but sometimes longer and sometimes shorter. The schedule constantly changed throughout the 2900 miles, depending on conditions and how riders felt. Three of the four had at least one accident, and a few got sick from the heat, so riders would sit out of the rotation as necessary when this would happen. Call this the organic approach, and it worked. The Texans held the lead from mile 60 to the finish, and while never complacent, they won decisively. (Actually they were totally paranoid the whole time about Norway, New Amsterdam Beer, or Make-A-Wish gaining on them. The Texans kept focussed on their splits at each time station and put the hammer down extra hard even if they had only lost two minutes over the second place team!) By the end, their average was 19.46mph and their finishing time was six days, five hours, thirty-one minutes.

So how would they fare in a match-up? I'd say in a dead heat, all things being equal. I'd ascribe the Texans' slower average speed, as compared to Manheim, to a much hillier course and poorer weather. Then again, the Texans had the added pressure (one would normally consider this an incentive to ride even faster) of a super competitive field, while Manheim simply rode away from the other two teams. Rumour has it that Manheim will include multiple world record holder (40K and The Hour, etc.) Kent Bostick on the team, by the way.

Looking ahead to the 94 Team RAAM, we can watch this match-up unfold within the even wider context of the race, which by all appearances will include fifteen to twenty teams, including teams from Brazil, France, Germany, England, Austria, and several women's teams. There's no doubt that it will be the most exciting and intense bicycle race in the history of the cycling. I fully expect a field sprint after 2900 miles of head-to-head battling. And I do not pontificate.

Why not form a team and be a part of history?

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