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Three thousand and thirty-seven miles (4887 km), all the way across the United States in twelve days or less. A forest fire raging en route, outside Flagstaff, Arizona. Temperatures well over 100 F (38 C) through early Southwest desert, mountain passes over 10,000 feet (3050 m), massive Midwest thunderstorms, wind and rain and southern humidity. That’s what the entrants in this year’s Race Across America are up against. The elements, the road, and, in many ways, themselves.
RAAM, the world’s premier ultra-endurance race starts on Tuesday, June 14. Here’s how to follow along.
What is RAAM?
It’s a race all the way across America. It’s wild, is what it is. The stats listed above are just the basics.
Riders will need to ride 18 to 20 hours per day or more to make the various time cuts. With a maximum length of twelve days, they’ll need to cover roughly 275 miles (400 km) per day. The quick math on that is an average speed of just under 14 mph (22.5 kph), or 11.5 mph (18.5 kph) including stopped time. The fastest solo riders will go significantly faster.
The solo record is held by Christophe Strasser in seven days, 15 hours, and 56 minutes, with an average speed of 16.12 mph (25.94 kph).
The original concept runs all the way back to 1887 when newspaperman George Nellis rode across the country via railroad routes in 80 days. The more modern version began in the 1970s, when John Marino decided to see how fast he could get across the country on a bicycle. The first head-to-head race came in 1982, and there were four starters.
There are recumbent, handcycle, and singlespeed categories. For most, equipment rules fall roughly in line with triathlon. Aero bars are allowed and you can swap bikes all you want. The difficulty lies in balancing efficiency with comfort.
The RAAM Route
The event begins in San Diego and finishes in Annapolis, Maryland, running from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way are checkpoints that the riders must reach – time cuts, like a significantly more brutal version of the Tour de France. The first comes atop Wolf Creek Pass in the southwest corner of Colorado, which rises to over 10,800 feet (3,300 m).
After the heat of Arizona and climbing through Colorado, the race heads into the midwest, where the wind will be the greatest enemy. Prevailing winds run out of the West, providing a tailwind, but prevailing doesn’t mean always. A shift in winds across the vast expanse of the American heartland could make or break many riders.
The route heads through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio before getting into the larger hills and mountains of the Appalachians in West Virginia. A very brief stint in Pennsylvania leads to Maryland and the final drop to the coast and the finish line.
Live Tracking and Dot Watching
There is no live TV coverage of RAAM because, well, it’s 12 days long with no breaks. The best way to follow is via your favorite rider’s social media and their GPS trackers. Dot watching, as it is called, provides up-to-the-minute location data.
You can watch every competitor via RAAM’s dot watching site.
If you’re here because you caught our podcast with racer Rupert Guinness, you can follow here him via his dot. He starts just after 1 pm local time on the 14th.
Riders compete as solo entrants or teams comprising two, four, and eight members. RAAM is a supported event, meaning that even for the solo entrants a large crew team is required to keep things moving forward.
The full start list is available on the race’s website. Here are the 33 solo starters:
- Allan Jefferson, Australia
- Arvis Sprude, Latvia
- Bharat Pannu, India
- Chris Davies, USA
- Christian Mauduit, France
- Dorina Vaccaroni, USA
- Elin Starup, Denmark
- Graham Macken, Ireland
- James Golding, United Kingdom
- Jean-Luc Perez, France
- Jim Trout, USA
- Jonathan Spencer-Jones, United Kingdom
- Kabir Rachure, India
- Kari Rouvinen, Finland
- Kurt Matzler, Austria
- Les Crooks, USA
- Lionel Poggio, Switzerland
- Martin Neitzke, Germany
- Nicole Reist, Switzerland
- Paolo Pietro Godardi, Italy
- Peter Skovbak, Denmark
- Peter Trachsel, Switzerland
- Rainer Steinberger, Germany
- Ricardo Arap, Brazil
- Rupert Guinness, Australia
- Sébastien Sasseville, Canada
- Simon Potter, United Kingdom
- Søren Rosenkilde, Denmark
- Svata Bozak, Czech Republic
- Phil Fox, USA
- Valerio Zamboni, Monaco
- Vivek Shah, India
Among those starters is a longtime friend of CyclingTips, journalist and author Rupert Guinness. We sat down with Rupert ahead of the race to discuss what drives him to compete. His story is a remarkable one, and well worth the listen.
Good luck to all RAAM competitors, we’ll be watching those dots and cheering you on.