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Strasser dominates RAAM as chasers battle for second

  • By Vic Armijo
  • Published Jun. 22, 2011
  • Updated Jun. 22, 2011 at 9:56 PM EST

Athens, OHIO (VN) – It’s been six days since competitors began the 2011 Race Across America. Here is an update as riders continue to work their way through the Midwestern portion of the United States.

Christoph Strasser has victory and a new record in his grasp. But the toughest miles wait ahead.

Solo Men

1. Christoph Strasser (Austria): 2,432 miles, 6 days, 11 hours, 3 minutes, average speed 15.65 mph.

Twenty-nine year old Christoph Strasser is on track to not only take his first Race Across America victory, but to also break the long-standing completed RAAM record of 15.4mph set by Pete Penseyres way back in 1986. The Austrian has dominated this 30th annual RAAM, having dropped 2nd place Marko Baloh back in Utah. Strasser currently has roughly 150+ miles on Baloh. While there’s still a lot of America left to race across, barring a sudden problem, it could be said that Strasser is no longer racing against Strasser; essentially he’s racing against Pete Penseyres.

Strasser’s current average is 15.65. But today he’ll face some of the toughest miles in RAAM as he reaches the Appalachian Mountains. Unlike the sustained climbs of the western states where a racer can develop a rhythm and where there are long descents where a rider can recover, the hills of West Virginia and into Maryland are one climb after another—hill repeats for 200 miles.

Strasser’s average will almost certainly drop in that stretch. But the following miles are relatively flat where if he has anything left in the tank, he may be able to kick up the pace and bring that average back up.

Yesterday when Strasser was spotted on the course before time station 39 in Bloomington, Indiana, he looked like someone out on weekend ride. His cadence was high; he sat solidly in the saddle and was not drooping over the bike as many RAAM riders are by this point. And it was evident that he was doing everything that he could to trim crucial seconds; he stood and powered over the tops of the climbs, he tucked in on the descents, and he shifted up and pedaled hard on those descents. In a rolling interview conducted out of the window of a media van, when asked if he felt as good as he looked, he replied, “Ah yes. Good, good. I feel good. Everything is good.”

This isn’t to say that he’s not feeling the affects of RAAM.

“A little bit sore, yeah,” he admitted, “Some saddle-sores, the legs, the knees of course, the feet. But not too much. Everything is within the normal range for such an event.”

2. Marko Baloh (Slovenia): 2,263.20 miles, 6 days, 12 hours, 37 minutes, average speed 14.45 mph.

There’s a race going on behind Strasser. Baloh has been consistent throughout RAAM 2011. The 44 year old has essentially been riding alone since Utah, with no other riders getting near him. However, that may change in the miles ahead as two riders have been chipping away at his position. Fourth place Gerhard Gulewicz (Austria) is only about an hour behind, and third place Alberto Blanco (USA) is less than an hour back. If they continue to close on him we’ll have one of the most interesting battles in recent RAAM history.

3. Alberto Blanco (USA): 2,263.20 miles, 6 days, 12 hours, 53 minutes, average speed 14.43 mph.

That he’s managed to stay in the race despite a case of Shermer’s Neck (severe fatigue of the neck muscles) is impressive, That he’s usefully challenged and ridden away from 4th place Gerhard Gulewicz is amazing.

“He started having neck issues on Wolf Creek Pass,” his crew chief, Dr. Robert Hernandez revealed, “He started feeling it on the descent. We switched to a lighter helmet and that helped. The following day from La Veta to Trinidad we started having some issues there.”

Hernandez commented on the cause, “He was probably too aggressive on the position,” referring to Blanco’s standard road racer handlebar height—most RAAM racers put their bars a bit higher. “And for him this kind of mileage is uncharted territory. This is the first time he’s ever gone over 48 hours. In training we’ve ridden 24 hours. But really consistently like this? No.”

His support device is a real Rube Goldberg affair, made up of a back-pack frame and other bits that the crew had at hand. “Yeah, it’s funny,” Dr. Hernandez said. “The metal thing that is supporting his head on the top, that’s actually one of our wheel holders from the top of our car that we bent into that shape.” According to Dr. Hernandez Shermer’s Neck is resistant to traditional means of relief, “Ice, massage, anti-inflammatories—Shermer’s Neck doesn’t respond to any of that. Theses muscles have just given out. Give him 7 to 10 days of rest after the race and the muscles will recover.”

Brace or not, keeping this kind of pace for the remaining miles is going to hurt. But Dr. Hernandez is confident in Blanco, “Mentally, he’s a bull. He’s just as strong mentally as anyone in the race. And his mental outlook is good. He’s cracking jokes, being himself. He’ll be fine.”

4. Gerhard Gulewicz (Austria): 2,263.20 miles, 6 days, 13 hours, 34 minutes, average speed 14.36 mph.

No one in this race has as much RAAM experience as Gerhard Gulewicz with palmares that include two second place finishes, a third, a seventh and one DNF.

Gulewicz is hoping to finally score his first RAAM win. The formula for RAAM success is ability, training, preparation, organization, an efficient and effective crew; and finally a generous measure of luck. In this his sixth RAAM attempts Gulewicz has shown to possess all of those essentials, but may have fallen just short of luck. While he’s been fortunate in not encountering any problems, and he’s looking better and going faster than the last year’s ride that carried him to second place, but he’s unfortunate in that he’s riding in “the year of Strasser.”

If his luck and pace improve just a little, second is still in reach. But first is Strasser’s to lose.

5. Mark Pattinson (USA): 2,195.90 miles, 6 days, 14 hours, 49 minutes, average speed 13.83 mph.

“Other than a few hiccups on the whole I’m pretty much on schedule,” Pattinson said in a rolling interview conducted over his communication headset.

Those “hiccups” was a bout of nausea, “I got sick on day two in the desert. I couldn’t keep any liquids down. But I had to keep moving. I was off for two hours, but it wasn’t too bad. It was a little bit scary. I wasn’t quite prepared for it.”

Thus far he has escaped any signs of the dreaded “Shermer’s Neck” that ended his 2010 RAAM.

“Last year it came on around Greensburg (Kansas). We fussed around with different braces. But the following day…I couldn’t even lift my chin off my chest. I thought it was too dangerous. So far so good this year.”

Like Baloh, Pattinson hasn’t seen another rider for several states. And he’s fine being alone and riding his own pace.

“I don’t want to get involved in a head to head battle,” he said, “That would be the death of me. I ride, I recover, I ride, I recover again. Because of that I’m not the best rider in the middle of the race or the beginning of the race. If I keep doing that I’ll be in good shape. I’m still on target for my nine days. So we’ll see.”

Solo Women (under age 50)

1. Leah Goldstein (Israel): 2,074 miles, 7 days, 9 hours, 24 minutes, average speed 11.69mph.

We may be entering the RAAM era of Leah Goldstein.

While her average speed thus far is about 2mph short of the best efforts of 6-time RAAM winner Seana Hogan, remember that this is Goldstein’s rookie year—most RAAM racers improve substantially after an event or two. That she has room to improve is evident in that she appears to be riding within her limits. She appears fresh on the bike, continues to joke with her crew, visit with fans at the time stations and generally enjoy the experience of what will likely be her first of many Races Across America.

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