We devote a lot of time on this blog to European cycling. We think of the ultimate triumvirate of cycling achievements to be the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana. There are, however, other ways to attain greatness on a bike outside of the European continent. You need not be a part of the European cycling elite to impress on two wheels as there are, would you believe it, 5 other continents that hold cycling events, the greatest of which could be argued to be the Race Across America.
Started in 1982 as The Great American Bike Race, the route, although varying year on year, takes competitors across the breadth of the states, from West coast to East coast. The race runs for approximately 3000 miles (longer than the Tour de France) and is considered among the greatest endurance tests in cycling.
All prospective competitors must complete a trial before being allowed to enter. I think, if anyone was allowed to just rock up and participate, deaths and law-suits would, no doubt, follow close behind the peloton. There are several qualifying events that take place throughout the year and all must be completed in a given time, depending on what the trial entails.
Once you reach the start line, the magnitude of the task ahead surely hits home. I have already mentioned that the race is longer than the Tour de France. What has not been previously stated is that the race is done all in one big block. There are no stages, no rest days, no time to recover. Once you go, you go. The fastest competitors take just over a week to finish the course, with many, as you might imagine, not finishing at all. With the stages and rest days in the Tour de France and alike races, they are competed at a much higher speed. The Race Across America is slower and more deliberate. It is endurance sport in its purest form.
The first Race Across America (The Great American Bike Race 1982) was contested between just four men, including race organiser John Marino and was won by American rider Lon Haldeman. They started in Santa Monica, California and finished nine days, twenty hours and two minutes later at the Empire State Building in New York.
Toward the end of the 80s, word of the competition grew and riders from all over the world showed up to compete, where previously the race had been made up exclusively of American riders. Trials were set up and entry was gained through qualification, rather than invitation.
Nowadays, participants expect to ride, basically, non-stop. Those pushing to win the competition will average about an hour and half of sleep per night. The endurance element applies not just to the physical act of riding, but to the physical act of fighting off exhaustion. It is grueling, and not for the faint of heart, but for the fierce of spirit. How far would you get?