RAAM 2013 report - part 1

Uh, I don’t know where to start, so much has happened in recent weeks. So the seventh RAAM is behind me, and the fifth successful finish, which ranks me high on the list of riders who have more than once finished RAAM. Of course, the legends at the top of the list remain Robi Kish with 19 (!) RAAMs, Jure with seven, Fasching and Chew with eight and so on. So, there are not many with enough will, strength, energy and endurance to do the toughest race in the world several times.

However, as the year’s race began, there were probably many who doubted whether I'll ever get to the finish line. The reason for that is that I’ve arrived to the US less than two weeks before the race with severe bronchitis. Thankfully my condition was quickly noticed by my American friends, and they made sure I got into the hands of capable doctors who understood my desire to race even under anything but favorable circumstances. Each doctor with no knowledge of sports would only say that the solution is simple, a week or two in the bed and you will be healthy again. But what waited for me was the race for which I prepared last year and even more, and we’ve already spent at least ¾ of the budget. In case of cancelation of my racing, I would lose the trust of my sponsors and supporters, and that would very likely have been the end of my dreams of RAAM. The answer was a therapy with heavy medication and of course resting until the lungs heal. With Irma we extended our stay in San Diego over the weekend because I was supposed to get the lung x-ray on Monday to refute the suspicion of pneumonia. Well, on Monday, it has been clear that X-ray was no longer required because the wheezing in my lungs was no longer there. The doctor could not believe how quickly my lungs have cleared, "prescribed" that we move to Palm Springs and I do one to two hour recovery ride a day to prepare for the start of the race and at least for the heat of the first days of RAAM.

All those who know top-level sport know how much fitness you lose after two weeks of rest, let alone two weeks of illness. In order to come back near to the level of fitness before the disease you need at least twice as long, that is in my case 4 weeks, and all I had were 7 (!) days. All I could do was count on years of experience and that these will show in the second part of the race. I didn’t have much hope of being able to race with the favorites Schoch, Strasser and Wyss in the early days of the race and our tactics were adapted to the fact that I have to be careful with my lungs and allow the body to rest more (in the form of a three-hour sleep a day). I hopes that I will be more rested and able to return to the race for the podium place in the second part of the race. Days before the race were even more hectic than usual because we already before the race our RV broke down on the way to Oceanside and it looked for some time that we will have to race without it. At the last moment Irma managed to find a RV in LA, but the price was huge and after the race we were supposed to bring it back to LA (which led to new shocks after the race). Not a very nice feeling when even before the race your budget gets into red numbers, but I tried to ignore it and concentrate on the start.

Everything else ran without any problems, the team was perfect and I did not have the slightest worry about them. And finally the long-awaited June 11th came and we started racing. I started fourth last, after me there were only three RAAM winners Wyss, Strasser and Schoch. I stuck to my plan from the start, and held the “prescribed” power-meter numbers especially uphill, and expected that soon all three winners will fly past me. To my surprise it was only Reto that flew by in the first 14% climb, Dani held much calmer tempo, which was not much faster than me. On the flat we held a pretty good speed and at one of the red traffic lights we caught Reto back. Of course, on the next climb Palomar Mtn. Reto sped away again, but this time Dani followed him while I was holding my pace. Surprisingly, I was overtaken by Cristoph only after some five hours of racing, we chatted a bit, he calmly told me that the Swiss do not worry him, because the race is still long, wished me luck and pressed on his pace in the last climb before the descent into the Mojave Desert. By that time I already had a huge problem with my feet, about which I was more than worried, as the pain appeared after only 3-4 hours of racing, and I couldn’t imagine how I can endure such a pain for more than a week long race. Short stop to massage the feet and change the insoles in cycling shoes were performed before the descent into Borrego Springs.

In our team everything was going according to plan, my nutrition (every other hour Winforce and every other hour Turbo Katka bar) has proven to be an excellent addition to one bottle per hour isotonic drink. Because of the heat I added an additional bottle of cold water almost every hour. Somewhere around Glamis Schoch passed me again, it seems he had some problems with the heat and probably too fast pace from the start. I followed him to the border control, where I lost contact because of some problems with passports, as well as it was time for my crew exchange. I continued with my pace until some miles before Blythe when I saw the flashing lights of the following cars in front of me and of course my fighting spirit could not let go. After a few fast miles I overtook the first rider who was a member of one of the teams racing RAW and a little later I passed Dani Wyss who was riding surprisingly slow. When I learned that it is Reto in front, I pushed a little bit more, and before the border with Arizona I caught him back. Now it was only Strasser in front of us, therefore after the first day and night of racing I shared the second place with the last zear’s winner of the RAAM, behind 2011 winner. It was more than I expected, life was good! That night I’ve forgotten about my power-meter a little and followed Reto over the hills of Arizona. It was fun! At a longer rise towards Congress I had to admit he was stronger and I continued at my own pace.

Lag behind my pace in 2011 meant one of two things or possibly both – me being in a lot worse shape and the conditions being worse (head wind). So it was the first time in my career that I arrived at Yarnell Climb in the late morning and the difference in temperature was evident. It took quite a lot of water splashing to cool me down. My crew informed me that Dani Wyss is slowly catching up to me and he has managed to do it in the last part of the ascent from Sedona to Flagstaff. There, I had to dig quite deep to keep in contact with him, and I arrived at the time station in Flagstaff only a few seconds behind him. Since it was time for another crew change and a fast foot massage, I was convinced that this was the last time I see Dani this evening. Joni, who was aware of my problems with sore feet showed her skills for the first time. She massaged my soles with a local anesthetic and I received a large dose of Ibu-profen, pain relief tablets. One problem was thus at least temporarily solved and I felt good again. A few miles from Flagstaff I saw a glimpse of the flashing lights of the following car in front, I pushed on the pedals once more and after some hard work I caught Dani back. Since Dani seemed quite slow on the downhills and the second day of racing really is not the time for tactics, I decided to overtake him once more and continue towards Tuba City at my own pace. Dani was more than happy to take advantage of my pacemaking and probably thought that he will shake me of easily at the uphill portion of this stage, but it didn’t really happen. I managed to hold his pace until I was forced to stop for the No.1 and he slowly disappeared into the distance. This night a piece of very bad road in length of nearly 8 miles really anoyed  me. It was beating me up pretty badly that it did even more damage to my already damaged soles and my rear side also didn’t like the beating much. In a quite grumpy mood I got to Kayenta and after around 1000km of racing laid down for the first sleep of the race.

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