Christoph Strasser RAAM Winner
Ultracycling – and especially the Race Across America are now fascinating me for more than half of my life. In my youth I played football and no one ever thought that I will start cycling with 18 and make this incredible career. Many years later, I am five time winner of this crazy, wonderful, fascinating and painful race and 2019 I’ll do it again. This year’s race means a lot to me: last year, I was able to draw level with Jure Robic, the former all-time champion of RAAM. This year I have the chance to become the first man ever to score a sixth win. But there’s much way to go until the finish line in Annapolis.
RAAM leads you 5000km across the USA (from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, ML). You are crossing 12 states, four time zones, starting in the desert, crossing the Rocky Mountains, fighting in the plains of the Midwest and finally you have to deal with the Appalachian Mountains. The interesting thing about this race: it’s a nonstop race. There are no daily stages like at Tour de France. You are racing nonstop, you manage your breaks by yourself.
The best riders are crossing the USA in 9 days, the maximum time allowed is 12 days. I was able to finish this race two times under 8 days. But it’s definitely one of the hardest things you can do in ultracycling.
You are suffering from heat, saddle sores, sleep deprivation and halluzinations – RAAM is a mentally challenging and gruelingly monotonous affair. It’s all about turning the cranks steadily and forcefully, day after day, night after night. After 48 hours the body begins to feel the lack of sleep and efficiency decreases. The mind rebels, then I experience phases of disorientation and hallucinations begin to form in the convolutions of the brain.
Once, in an interview, I said that one of the keys to success in Race Across America was in the noiseless two-way radios and that I have the utmost respect for the winners in the 1980s and 1990s who did not have these valuable tools. But there are different types of cyclists. Some don’t want to talk that much, others want to communicate as much as possible, because that helps staying awake.
The radio is my connection to the outside world. My outside world in RAAM is my crew, which I trust unconditionally and whose instructions I follow without discussion. From the outside, I’m the focus around which everything revolves. From the inside, I’m part of a team, like the racing driver in Formula One, who needs his mechanics to plan and execute the pit stops, develop the strategy, and keep an eye on the entire race to make important decisions for the driver. All year long, I live RAAM; I train hard following a precise plan. Regardless of whom my toughest opponents might be, I want to be in top form, I want to arrive at the RAAM start with certainty that I will be able to finish the race quickly.
Some cyclists need only a minimum of communication. They ride the race in their own minds and with the support of a lot of music, but do not need the communication with their team so much.
Sometimes this can become a problem if they do not communicate early enough or if the crew realizes that something is wrong. Whether on a physical or mental level, the sooner one (still) addresses small issues, the sooner you will be able to solve them well. This is often the key to a successful finish in a race like the Race Across America.
I have been a communicative type since the beginning of my career in ultracycling. Not only do I need to talk with my crew immediately to solve any small issues, but I need those conversations to stay focused, motivated, and alert. Sleep deprivation in this race is probably one of the hardest aspects to learn to deal with. Sleep deprivation can not be trained. The few riders who do that will then learn in the race that unfortunately it does not work. You also can not sleep more to have a sleeping depot before the start. In these hard hours, when the body is tired, the mind no longer understands what it is doing and why it does, I am 100% dependent on my team. They try to engage me again in conversation, to demand my spirit, to become more awake again. Especially in these arduous phases, the Terrano system is indispensable. Being able to stay connected also gives me a sense of security. I spend so much at the starting line and trust my team blindly. I do not make big decisions anymore, they do it for me. If I were also cut off from them in terms of conversation, that would be pure hell for me. The first phases of the race, where I am only allowed to be looked after from the roadside during the day, are the purest torture for me. Only short conversations, no possibility to really exchange or to distract me from the hard phases, that is difficult to endure at first.
My team also needs communication with me to better assess my constitution to read something motivating from home and from my fans, or to challenge me with calculation examples.
With horror I remember my 24h indoor record in Switzerland. Not only the monotonous circling on the track has driven me insane, not to mention the physical strain, but above all the barely possible communication with my team. The radio systems were simply disturbed by the many interfering signals in the hall and it was very tedious to have a conversation. These 24h were really tougher than any Race Across America. That sounds strange, but Marko Baloh, who held this record before me, said the same thing. The burdens can not be compared, but for the head these are 24h harder than RAAM. There is no change, no intermediate destination like the RAAM (soon we reach the next Timestation or the Halfwaypoint for example). There is only you, the wooden train, 24h in a circle and the fight against dizziness, fatigue, nausea and time.
In the end I want to say, that radios on the helmet also improve your safety on the road. Please do not use your mobile phone while riding, this is very dangerous! Take the bluetooth connection to your phone and talk without using your hands.
Stay safe, enjoy riding, and have a great day!
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