Words and photos by Vic Armijo
June 11, 2013. Oceanside, California — The Race Across America begins today at noon, boasting the most competitive field of solo riders in its 32-year history. On the start line will be 2012 winner Reto Schoch (Switzerland), 2011 winner Christoph Strasser (Austria), and 2009 and 2006 winner Daniel Wyss (Switzerland). All three of these riders have completed the 3,000 miles between Oceanside, California and Annapolis, Maryland in the 8-day and 6-hour neighborhood, and all three hope to be first to record a finish of 7 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes—or less.
The solo field has great depth beyond this trio of recent winners. Austrian Gerhard Gulewicz has been called "the fastest man to never win RAAM." In 2009 he posted a finish time of 8 days, 23 hours, which in most years would have been good enough to win, except Wyss had finished some 8 hours earlier. With seven RAAMs to his credit the former body-builder has two second-place finishes, two third places, a seventh and two DNFs and has been in every RAAM since 2006. Gulewicz is back for his eighth consecutive RAAM, making him the most experienced rider entered, just ahead of Marko Baloh (Slovenia) who is beginning his seventh.
With a personal best of second place Baloh is not to be counted out. While his speed is evident—the man is the current 24 Hour World Record Holder, his RAAM speed falls a bit short of the favorites—he's yet to dip below the 9-day mark.
It's ironic that the Race Across America has long been dominated by European riders. The last top finish by an American born rider was David Haase's 3rd place in 2008, and the last U.S. winner was Alan Larson way back in 2003. But while Seattle's Chris Ragsdale will come to RAAM 2013 as a rookie, none other than 2011 winner Strasser points to Ragsdale as a rider capable of mounting a challenge. And fellow American rider Mike Wilson called Ragsdale, "the real deal," saying, "Of any American in the race this year, Chris is probably the fastest."
How does 35-year-old Ragsdale feel about these assessments?
"I have a lot of confidence that if I can go into this in the best shape of my life—that I can hang with the best," he said. "I want to aim for at least top American. But I also know the history of RAAM and know statistically that my odds aren't that great as a rookie."
Five solo women will start today. Cassie Schumacher, whose 2012 RAAM attempt ended in Missouri due to various issues, is back for another go in the Under 50 category. She'll be challenged by RAAM rookie Lisa Dougherty.
RAAM legend Seana Hogan—the event's only 6-time winner—is back for her first RAAM since 1998 with a goal of breaking the women's 50-plus category record of 12 days, 15 hours and 59 minutes set by Kathy Roche-Wallace in 2011. Roche-Wallace is also entered and will do her best to keep Hogan behind her—and will also work toward bettering her 2011 time.