Vic Armijo / City Dock, Annapolis, Maryland
June 24, 2011 11:02am EDT
That this 30th Annual Race Across America would be memorable was evident right from the start, just nine days ago. The start list for RAAM 2011 boasted the biggest field of solo racers ever. The field was especially strong, with two previous second place riders and several more riders with top ten finishes. Yet not a single past winner was among the June 15 starters. It was a foregone conclusion that the first rider to reach Annapolis, Maryland would be earning his first win. Most knowledgeable RAAM fans predicted that the favorites were the two most experienced racers, Gerhard Gulewicz (Austrian) and Marko Baloh (Slovenia). While many predicted a strong ride from Christophe Strasser (Austria), with a RAAM record of 1 DNF in 1 start, few considered him a threat to win.
Strasser, however, came to the USA to settle a score, “Two years ago I was really fast in the beginning,” he said a few days ago in Oceanside, “I had a good start and a good first three days. Then in Colorado entering the Rocky Mountains I got problems with my lungs. I got pneumonia and had to quit the race. My oxygen intake was very low and I spent four days in the hospital in intensive care. Now I am back to get to the finish. I am very focused and very motivated.”
Strasser established his intentions early. While it was Steven Perezluha (USA) the youngest rider in the race who made to the first time station, Strasser was mere minutes behind in 4th. Strasser worked his way into 1st by second time station in Borrego Springs. Meanwhile Marko Baloh—one of those riders with a pair of RAAM 2nd place finishes—trailed Strasser as the race entered Arizona. Baloh closed to within minutes of Strasser before Parker, Arizona, and eventually passed Strasser and was first to reach Flagstaff. Baloh put 20 minutes between he and Strasser s by Tuba City. As the two approached picturesque Monument Valley, neither was there for the view (it was dark by then anyway), these two were racing! They sped through Kayenta separated by mere feet, each being credited with the same arrival time, although Baloh was in front, albeit by a scant few feet. Forty-four miles later, it was Strasser who arrived first at Mexican Hat, Utah, with Baloh rolling in six minutes later. It was here, a day and a half into the race, and with 723 miles behind him, that Baloh took his first sleep break. It would be the last time that he or any other RAAM Solo racer would see Strasser; the Austrian would hold his lead until the end.
The 29 year old finished his ride this morning just a few minutes after midnight. His overall time of 8 days, 8 hours and 6 minutes calculates to an overall speed average of 14.94mph, the 3rd fastest average speed ever. The puts him among the RAAM elite. The top three fastest overall stands as follows. 1. Pete Penseyres 15.4mph 1986, 2. Daniel Wyss 15.28mph, 2009. 3. Christoph Strasser 14.94mph,
Throughout his race winning ride, Strasser’s speed average had him in position to break Penseyres’ long-standing record; that is, until the Appalachians. By the time Strasser put the last of those climbs behind him, his average had fallen below the crucial number. “We knew that it was very close,” he said this morning, “My crew chief did some calculations about the record, but then we did not want to stress ourselves in the finish.”
Smart. Everything about this guy impresses; his speed, his professional yet engaging manner, his physical and mental, are all marks of a champion. But perhaps most impressive is his racing maturity. To back off and save himself for another day in what is likely to be a long and successful career. And as we saw by his smiles and engaging personality throughout the race, he knows that for him, enjoying the ride is key to staying motivated, “When you see the pictures on our home page you will see that we had a lot of fun,” he said this morning at the finish, “But still we can be a hundred percent professional and serious about getting the job done. It is an honor to be here and a rider should push as much as possible.”