By Vic Armijo
Slovenian Jure Robic won his fifth Race Across America on Friday in dominating fashion, crossing the finish line more than 12 hours ahead of runner-up Gerhard Gulewicz.
The Austrian, who had at times worked his way to within two hours of Robic, seemed to concede defeat by West Virginia, where his pace slowed. Matthew Warner-Smith of Australia kept plugging along, however, cutting his deficit from five hours to two before claiming third place in Annapolis, Maryland.
Robic’s official time was nine days, one hour and one minute, with an overall average speed of 13.85 mph — well off Pete Penseyres’ long-standing mark of 15.4 mph, which Robic had hoped to break this year.
He had a strong start, but cold, wet conditions in Durango, Colorado, clipped his wings.
“The weather in Colorado was bad in all ways,” Robic said Friday. “Headwind, a lot of rain, heavy rain and cold wind — these conditions, in high altitude, you cannot ride fast. I also have problems with my throat and it was a lot of work for my doctor to keep me in condition to still race, because I was almost on the edge to quit.”
The plains of Kansas offered up their own brand of misery.
“Headwinds in Kansas are always a problem,” Robic said. “This year I was prepared for these headwinds mentally. When they start blowing I just switch on the positive thoughts in my head and try still harder. …”
Robic’s fifth victory came without the financial and logistical support of the Slovenian army. He has retired from the service — retirement is mandatory at age 45 — and this year used a civilian crew. They performed admirably, he said.
“The crew was not so very new,” Robic said, “All the members were already once or twice crew for Race Across America, but not with my team. They know what the terrain is and they know what to expect out there in these conditions and they work like Swiss clock. Big part of this win is theirs.”
It has been surmised in the ultramarathon-cycling community that this may be Robic’s farewell RAAM. “He’s realizing that he is not the youngest any more,” said crew chief Matjaz Planinsek. “He’s not so self-confident that he can do anything.”
But Robic has declared himself done with RAAM before and come back. When asked directly he replied: “When I am finished with a RAAM I always feel like it is the last. But then a week, a month passes and I start thinking about it again. So maybe I should say nothing. With the RAAM, anything is possible.”
In the meantime, he’ll return to Slovenia, where he’ll take a little downtime before resuming training for the rest of his racing season.
“I imagine myself laying back, feet up in cold water. And there may be some beer nearby,” he said.
Buatois still best
Recumbent racer Barbara Buatois still leads the women’s race and is expected to finish early Sunday morning.
Buatois holds a commanding 23-hour lead over South African Michele Santilhano. Italian Sabrina Bianchi, in third, has closed in to within five hours of Santilhano. With both having nearly 500 miles of racing ahead of them there seems to still be a race for second place.
While Buatois’ pace has been by far the fastest of this year’s women — she has been averaging 10.93 mph — she’s far off the record of 13.22 mph, set by Seana Hogan in 1995 on a course that began in Irvine, California, and ended in Savannah, Georgia.