By Vic Armijo
ANNAPOLIS, MD (June 25, 2013)--Certainly, the big news of RAAM 2013 was the dominant win by Austrian Christoph Strasser, who in finishing in a time of 7 days, 22 hours and 11 minutes became the first solo rider to finish RAAM in under eight days, averaging 15.58 miles per hour, and in doing so, broke Pete Penseyres’ 1986 record of 15.4 mph.
But, there were 39 other solo riders on racing, and while some of them took a full five days longer than Strasser to complete the 3,000 miles, their stories are no less interesting or inspiring.
2nd Place Dani Wyss, Switzerland. 8 days, 20 hours, 31 minutes, 14.09 mph overall average
Prior to the start, 2-time RAAM winner Wyss was favored for victory by some. While Wyss did keep a pace that kept him well ahead of most of the field, Strasser and Reto Schoch were hours ahead of Wyss by Arizona. It wasn’t until Schoch stopped and nearly withdrew in Ohio that Wyss took over second and rolled into Annapolis, some 14 hours off of his personal best.
3rd Place Reto Schoch, Switzerland. 9 days, 1 hour, 3 minutes, 13.97 mph overall average
The diminutive Swiss rider was the revelation of RAAM 2012, a race in which he went head-to-head with Strasser and prevailed, finishing with the fastest rookie time ever and third fasteset ever speed average. Wanting a repeat victroy and the records that Strasser ended up beating, Schoch went out hard to take the lead on day one, only to suffer cramps later in the desert heat and give up the lead to Strasser. Schoch slowly recovered and by Kansas was up ahead of his 2012-winning pace by over an hour--but Strasser was up ahead keeping an even faster pace that had him pulling away from Schoch at a rate of 20 miles per day. With the stresses of the chase havingsapped Schoch’s energy and motivation, he stopped outside of Oxford, Ohio for several hours, contemplating his withdrawal from RAAM. It was only after Wyss rode by and after a RAAM official encouraged Schoch to finish, that Schoch remounted, taking third place. At the finish Schoch thanked his crew, "They supported me all through these very hard periods of time. They really took me here to Annapolis and they supported me in very bad times when I was demotivated." He also took motivation from the other racers on course, "I thought that it was also for all the other finishers who don’t have to go finish the race in 8 or 9 days--they just want to go over this finish line. So I said to myself, ‘I should do that also.’ for all of those that finish the race within the 12 days."
4th Place Mark Pattinson, UK, 9 days, 6 hours, 18 minutes, 13.47 mph overall average
This US-based British expat has a RAAM strategy that works well--at least for him. He’s not one to go out with blazing speed to challenge the leaders, for as he’s often mentioned, "I don’t have blazing speed." Instead the soft-spoken racer keeps a steady pace, gets a little more sleep than most contenders (three hours per night, plus short day-time naps) while he rides farther down in the standing and in the latter miles of RAAM while those ahead are faltering he’s able to reel them in one-by-one. In previous RAAMs this tactic has twice taken him to second place. This year it was good enough for fourth.
5th Place Marko Baloh, Slovenia, 9 days, 9 hours, 51 minutes, 13.25 mph overall average
At age 46 he’s the elder statesman of the top contenders. With 7 RAAM starts under his belt he has an experience advantage over his younger rivals, but unlike Strasser, Schoch and Wyss Baloh is not a member of the "8-Day Club." Baloh had a good RAAM 2013 with no major issues--vital to a good finish--but his pace was no match for the leaders.
Top American: Chris Ragsdale, USA, 10 days, 23 hours, 20 minutes, 10.76 mph overall average
This is the Race Across AMERICA, right? So there’s always a certain sentiment about the first US-born rider to finish. This year that man is one that even one of his fellow American competitors called the "real deal;" the one that winner Christoph Strasser said is someone to watch; the one favored to be the first US-born rider to reach Annapolis, finished in 15th place. During his interview on the finish line stage the Seattle cyclist spoke of the up times on the road, the tough times in Ohio and Missouri, including the moments when he needed to stop--no there were no thoughts of DNF’ing, he said,"But I did need to be away to have a few minutes alone." However he also took comfort in having some company, as he recounted about the fellow UltraCyclist who days ago when he most needed it, met him out on the road to ride along with him for awhile, and how that rider shared of having met Ragsdale on course in a 24-hour race and was inspired by Ragsdale’s ride and of Ragdale’s having taken a moment to chat with another competitor during a race. Ragsdale took further inspiration from that rider, after the two parted ways--his new found friend had chalked the road with inspirational messages to Ragsdale.
Maria Parker, overall winner of the age 50+ women aboard her recumbent, is the greatest come-back story in RAAM’s 32 year history. This is the woman who in response to her sister’s brain cancer, decided to to do RAAM as means of raising $1million for brain cancer research. She explained her plan, "If you text the word ‘Race’ to 20222 you can make a ten dollar donation. And essentially that’s what we’re looking for--we want 100,000 ten dollar donations."
Inspirational stuff, eh? It gets more so. On her second day of RAAM outside of Tuba City, Arizona a texting driver crashed into the rear of her follow car, destroying it and her two back-up bikes. More concerning was the head injury suffered by her son Will, "He had a pretty good goose egg," said his father, Jim Parker, a physician who devoted the next hours on looking after his son. With her equipment and her crew’s motivation in shambles, Maria Parker withdrew from RAAM. "But then after 24-hours and everyone was okay, and my nephew Charlie called and said ‘You know aunt Maria, you need to do this, you need to finish this.’ And I saw the reasoning and the wisdom in what he was saying. If we quit when we have this adversity, what kind of message does that send to people with cancer? If we gave up because somebody hit our follow car and destroyed my bikes, what kind of message are we sending to the researchers, to the victims, to other people who’ve we’ve asked for money?"
Parts from the damaged bikes were salvaged, another follow car was rented and Parker got back on the road. Initially, having withdrawn from RAAM, she was going to continue unofficially, but RAAM Headquarters reinstated her race. Parker made quick progress and while one of her competitors did pull out, by mid-Kansas she had overtaken the rest of the womens field and held that position for the remaining half of the race. Her story was picked up by mainstream news and her Facebook page received overwhelming response. To encourage her the crew used the follow car communication system to read to her the numerous Facebook messages, "It’s been overwhelming," she said at the finish line, "So many have written and they’ve all been so kind. We have messages from a mother who said ‘I’m sitting with my son in his hospital room and he’s undergoing treatment for brain cancer, and just want to tell you how much it means to me what you’re doing and how encouraged he is by it.’ Another person wrote and said ‘My son is out riding his bike. He’s a brain cancer survivor and is so inspired by what you’re doing. People that I don’t know--they’re my sisters and brother’s all over the country who care! I’m so grateful to God for keeping me safe and to all the people who were praying for me. I’m incredibly grateful to my crew, my family. My crew I think was probably the best RAAM crew ever. I’m most grateful to all of the people at home, on Facebook, who prayed for me, who offered words of encouragement. I’ve been climbing incredibly steep grades with these words of people encouraging me and telling me to keep doing this."
Maria Parker’s RAAM 2013 story is not of merely pedaling a bicycle faster than the other riders (by the way, she finished in a time of 11 days, 21 hours and 35 minutes), her story is about overcoming overwhelming adversity and about the inspiration she absorbed from her supporter and about the inspiration that she’s to people all over the world. If you’re moved by this, if reading this made you get a little choked up, go to www.3000milestoacure.com and make a donation.
A surprisingly fresh looking Cassie Schumacher finished RAAM on Monday. The race that had beaten her down and left her at the side of a Missouri road in 2012, has now been successfully completed by the Ohio native in a time of 12 minutes, 18 minutes, 57 seconds to take the under 50 category win. The Race Across America is merciless, as Cassie Schumacher knows oh so well. Last year in her rookie RAAM, she suffered early with desert heat and digestive issues and never fully recovered. She bravely soldiered on until Weaubleau, Missouri where she and her crew agreed--the limit had been reached…probably miles back. This year she persevered, and while she had here share of highs and lows in doing so, she credited her crew in getting her through, "You can’t do it without a good crew," Schumacher said, "I think that RAAM is bi-polar--you’ll be in the highest high and lowest low in the same moment. You need good strong people to keep you even keel. When I felt like that, I had a great crew that didn’t let me take myself so seriously."