RAAM 2001 Team E-Caps

"Peter, why don't you join me in 2001 to race RAAM in the 50+ category as team E-caps?" " Lots of prize money and sponsorship." "Chances are we will make money". Who can say no to that? " Sure Bill, sign me up." Can't wait to send my entry in to Lon and Susan. Bill Maida and I are going to burn rubber, set a new record and all this for free!!! Bill Maida successfully finished two man team RAAM in 2000 with Dwight Bishop and would be able to generate ample sponsorship. In the following months however, it started to rain on our parade. I managed to hurt some tendons/ muscles close to my left Achilles tendon. It took me a while to find the problem and fix it. I informed Bill he might have to look for an alternate. At the same time Bill had his own problems, including sore hamstrings and  knee problems. One knee got so bad, it required arthroscopic surgery, forcing Bill to make the agonizing decision to withdraw from the race. Bummer!!! Apart from products from E-caps, no sponsorship. No free motor home. Loss of Bill's expertise . Few crew. Solo RAAM??? Recalling the sleep deprivation during RAAM 1997, no way! Who to team up with? I had met Jim Pitre at the 508 training camp. While riding strong, he expressed some doubts about being able to get in shape for solo RAAM. Sure enough, he is game. Still need some crew though. Fortunately Rich Kondzielaski ("Ski") and Lanie Smith are ready to help out. Barry Bazan , a neuromuscular therapist, comes on board a few weeks before the race. Training is coming along well, climbing most of the climbs from Hwy 395, such as Horse Shoe Meadows, Whitney Portal  and Onion Valley. Mixing this with some Double Centuries and my daily extended commutes between Malibu and Los Angeles, things are looking up. Got to get this thing organized though. Unfortunately between work and training, Jim and I just can't find the time to discuss important matters such as when and how to exchange riders, who should ride which part of the course, crew schedules, etc. etc. We are going to play it by ear! This will eventually come to bite us where it hurts us most. The night before the race we try to solve some of the issues, but  some important ones are left to be resolved. The most important thing will be to have fun!

"Why don't you both ride the first 20 miles, so you can chat with the other competitors?" Forget it, I will turn around the moment we leave the parking lot. Got to stay fresh for those "monster "climbs. After Sandy the race really starts, so does the climbing. Jim and I trade places. I have to redline my heart rate monitor just to try to stay up with some of these (younger) guys. This  is going to be more intense than I anticipated. Still more than 2900 miles to go and I am already tired. It is pretty obvious to me how this race will develop. The two Brazilian teams are so fast, that unless they do something stupid, we will never see them again. The team with young Ben Popp is bound to burn itself out. Team Colorado seems to be out of shape. The German team is a lot slower than I would have expected considering their age, but they are steady and probably will stay in the race. This leaves Team eXtreme, with Charlie Liskey and Steve Winfrey. We will likely chase each other all the way to Florida. Team (4 man) Vail is smoking the course, but who cares.

Running an average heart rate of 149 ( which by the way is pretty high for me; max. heart rate is probably around 180 and most of this climbing is done between 150 and 160), I know I am gaining on Steve Winfrey and finally I catch up to him. Steve appears so caught up in his desire to stay with me, that he ends up glued to my wheel. No matter what I do , I can't shake this pit bull. I gently remind Steve to either pass or drop back somewhat, to avoid a penalty for drafting. I beat him to the first time station, but then disaster strikes: " Down hill" Charlie takes over. Literally within seconds, he catches up, passes me and is gone!!! Incredible! I try to descend as fast as I can "Pantani style" but to no avail.  Maybe Jim will be able to catch him. Team eXtreme's strategy becomes clear: Steve will be the climber, Charlie will do the descents. Even though I will be climbing more than Jim, our pulls are longer and therefore more varied, to include climbing as well as descending. Probably not the best strategy, but at least it allows the crew to rest more. Team Extreme has its act together, their rider switch offs are fast and well organized. I am climbing hard out of Maupin, a nice climb with Mount Hood in the back ground. We catch them before the third time station but then loose time again, probably  because of the slower rider exchanges. Trying to recall the first few days, most of the events are blurred, but the competition between E-Caps and Extreme stands out as fierce indeed. Each of us is prepared to draw blood. These guys will reach Florida before me over my dead body! My "laissez faire" attitude is gone, no time to be wasted! Unfortunately this change of attitude does not go over so well with the crew, I have to tone it down a bit. Rolling right along, we are building a  lead but loose it again for having to stop at night at Time Station # 4 to call in. We arrive well before Steve Winfrey, but can not find the other crew to call it in. Apparently they fell asleep. It seems to take forever to get hold of a phone. Our cell phones are either not working or the crew is reticent about using them. Steve arrives and keeps on going, his crew calls in even before we can get to RAAM HQ. Finally we are ready to move out, but where is Beverly??? Retired to the bathroom of course, not to be found for awhile. I remember calling out to Steve he had to stop to call in , not realizing he was organized enough to have Charlie's crew do that. Well, we just have to ride a bit harder. BIG CONFUSION! Where is Jim and the motor home. I am ready for my sleep break. Can't believe I ever did this solo! Jim's van, the Nevrona.com bus, passes us doing 90+miles /hr. Jim is ready for some climbing! Jim is doing well, unfortunately he, but not team eXtreme, gets stopped for road construction for 20 minutes. We are now 30 minutes behind, not too bad for us oldies. Jim goes in hyper drive and catches them in Twin Falls, Idaho. Yippeee! We are now steadily gaining. I take over before dawn, to do the climb into Utah. I hate riding that time of the night. I have a hard time staying awake. Without fail, I start falling asleep on the bike when the terrain flattens out. Only the desire to stay in front of the eXtreme's keeps me going. Am I glad Jim is there to take over when we cross the border into Utah. Entering Snowville, Utah we have  a 30 minute lead, we are already celebrating, but disaster lurks ahead. Peddling right along we reach the climb to Mt. Mckinnon, approximately 4000ft in 20 miles with some steep sections. While climbing one of the steeper sections, my van quits! Hell and Damnation! I thought the dealer had taken care of this problem! My van really acted up during the Badwater to Durango race last year and I had it "fixed" with a $500 repair. After wasting  at least 10 minutes I decided to go on. Jim and crew are having ( steak??) dinner at some restaurant below, they can support me to the summit, where Jim will take over. The van rejoins us later and I keep my fingers crossed. Since the problem is intermittent and may not recur, it is going to be pretty useless to bring it to a service station to be looked at.

Still keeping my fingers crossed I start the climb through the Flaming Gorge. We are climbing this in the dark, during the day the scenery must be magnificent. This climb and its predecessor are the most "challenging" climbs in RAAM. Being part of a two man team, these are no great obstacles but the solo riders surely will remember those two climbs! Following those climbs we have extended our lead to one hour and 40 minutes. Great tail wind into Steamboat Springs, where Jim's crew has decided to rent a room at the Rabbit Ears Motel for showers. We got to the hotel too fast for Jim's crew to be ready, so my van will follow him after the switch off. Before I can relax and try to take a nap, "disaster" strikes. The damn van has quit numerous times trying to follow Jim through a road construction section out of Steamboat Springs. We all jump in the motor home and meet up with the van. By now I am completely stressed out, I should be resting! What to do? The van will make it to Tennessee Pass, but how about the zillion rollers and heat before we reach Florida. Rent another van? Borrow Lanie's or Bill Peschka's in Texas? How to get my van back? I am spending far more money on this years RAAM than budgeted, I simply can not afford more. Dripping sweat, I start making numerous calls. It's around 3 pm on Friday and no Ford dealer is willing to work on the car. Finally the dealer in Salidad will install a new fuel pump (who knows if this will really cure the problem) first thing Saturday morning. During all these deliberations we see Charlie passing by ( "should have put more sugar in that gas tank", he is thinking). Ski will drive to Salidad, sleep in front of the garage, have the car fixed and rejoin us ASAP. By now Jim is REALLY ready for me to start the climb to Tennessee Pass. I get one more short break and we are off to the 10424' mark. Because we lack room, the crew does not want a bike in the motor home. This results in lots of time wasted during the switch offs. We climb pretty fast and get to Leadville sooner than expected. Jim and crew are still asleep. Better to stay on the bike and go on, but it is bitterly cold. We have to waste more time to don multiple layers of clothes. After 12 miles of a gradual, bone chilling, descent  the motor home is a sight for sore eyes. We now spend another half hour for Jim to dress and for me to get my warm clothes off. Jim is finally off and I  take a 3 hour, well deserved, sleep break. After this break and while driving up for the rider exchange, we pass Jeff Stephens as well as Katie Lindquist. The roads are so treacherous, we have to slow down forcing us to make the exchange a bit further down the road than anticipated. Jim has been on the bike for nearly 5 hours and is pretty tired, cold and not too happy. Somehow everyone is either unhappy, angry or both. But that's  RAAM for you. It is a tough race, even when everything goes right and even for a two man Team. Somehow I am rewarded for my efforts with a 94 mile pull, taking me just under 6 hrs. We should have exchanged at the Time Station at Walsenburg, which would have resulted in a 75 mile pull without wasting precious minutes calling in and getting gas. You can be sure some choice words were exchanged between Lanie and me. More minutes are wasted because of some confusion where to make the exchange. All in all we are now 1 hr behind eXtreme  passing  Trinidad. Since Team eXtreme is strong on the flats it will be very difficult to catch up. It is amazing we are able to keep up anyway, at least to Slapout, considering the lack of use of my van and the subsequent slow rider exchanges. So far the weather has been great, no rain, no strong headwinds. In Oklahoma and Texas however we get a taste of winds, mostly strong cross winds. Lanie assures me these are tail winds, but that's bunk when you are actually on the bike. Wherever these winds are coming from, they slow me down and wear me out. Somehow a 78 mile pull has been planned  for Jim to Slapout. " It is all tailwinds from here, no problem" I caution Lanie, being afraid Jim will " blow up" trying to fight these cross/head winds, but to no avail. Before Jim gets on the bike I also caution him and urge him, if needed, to let me take over sooner. It is still a long way to Florida and we will need each other. Unfortunately I turned out to be right. After about 60 miles Jim has had it. He is now wasted and apparently dehydrated. I should think he is just extremely tired after battling these damn winds. "Just take it easy", I hear over the radio. Yeah right, this is a race remember. I ride for about 60 miles after which we start to exchange again, keeping Jim's pulls to 10 miles until he has fully recovered. Jim keeps on trucking and recovers quickly. Team eXtreme's lead has now grown  to about 3 hours. Fortunately Ski has rejoined us and the van is working well.

The rollers through Arkansas are starting to take their toll. They are steep and somehow I can not get a good rhythm attacking them. My tendons on the outside of my right ankle start to hurt and in fact crepitate. Not good. Time for Jim to help me out and take longer pulls. I am slowing down for the next couple of pulls and the gap gets wider: 4 hours. Finally by changing cleat position, shoes and bikes I am able to pick up the pace again. In the mean time we have passed Cassie Lowe, Rainer Claus, Mark Patten and even Danny Chew. Danny catches up with me during the last few climbs in Alabama, thinking  Rainer Claus was ahead. Jim and Danny ride together for a while. This burst of speed however has cost Danny dearly, after another exchange I pass him quickly and he is off for a final one hour sleep break.

The moment we cross the Florida border we meet up with a police escort. Now we are really picking up the pace, the patrol car acting as a pace vehicle. This is great, the last 90 miles we are flying. Pterodactyl and Penguin are finally taking off! Traffic is halted on the intersections, no traffic behind us. When I was crewing for Danny Chew last year, the traffic was atrocious on this section. The ride over the bridge is a breeze. Jim and I are riding the final 5 miles together. I can't believe we have been on the road seven days +. It seems like  we left Portland only yesterday. We get a terrific welcome, get our RAAM medals and have a chance to congratulate Steve and Charlie on a great race. I am quite satisfied with the results, knowing Jim and I gave it our best.

Thanks to the crew for all their patience and hard work. RAAM would be impossible, were it not for them. Thanks Lon and Susan for  a great race. Thanks to Mother Nature for outstanding conditions. Thanks to the sponsors ( click link for more details ). E-Caps, the best race nutrition. Draftmaster, the best bicycle rack. ChamoisButrr the best recipe for a painless ride.

Some "Pearls of Wisdom":

  • For each rider there were at least 47 pulls. We lost precious time on virtually all of them. Communication between the vans is crucial. Cell phones and radio often did not work. Usually we did not know, when to get ready for the switch off. We were either too early, resulting in a waste of rest/sleep time  just standing alongside the road waiting for the other rider. Or too late, which was even worse. Satellite phones might be a solution. "Practice makes perfect."

  • Forget about long pulls to allow for longer sleep breaks. Both Jim and I were pretty much "whipped" after 4 hrs. Because of the climbs the pulls will be more varied in the first few days. From Oklahoma on, shorter pulls (between one and two hours) seem to work the best.

  • Do all the strategy planning before the race (this should be pretty obvious to anyone, but it wasn't to us), there is just no time for the riders to talk to each other. After racing over seven days with Jim, I still haven't a clue how he experienced RAAM. Each of us pretty much rode his own race and was challenged in his own unique way during the race.


Jim's RAAM 2001 Perspective

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About 6 weeks before RAAM I was sitting in my living room wondering how I was going to cram enough training into the short time remaining to be able to finish solo RAAM when he phone rang. It wasnít that I hadnít been training a lot, but with starting up a new business and all the other activities in my life including trying to do some kind of job publicizing RAAM itself, it hadnít been enough and time was running out. Anyway, it was Peter Pop on the phone wondering if I would be interested in doing 2-man Team RAAM because his partner, Bill Maida had some knee problems and wouldnít be able to compete. It was instantly clear to me that that was my answer - why hadnít I thought of that? Somebody was obviously looking out for me as it was the best decision I have made (or didnít make) for a long time. Here was my chance to team up with an outstanding cyclist that would give me the chance of finishing RAAM and possibly being part of setting a record in the 50-year-old class for 2-man team. Besides that I was still short on crew and now with Peterís crew we were only one short.

I knew the crew would be critical (at the time I didnít know how critical as I had no idea how much stress Team RAAM would put on the support team) Kathleen Rogers, Ron Donaldson from Phoenix were onboard along with my old friend Barry Bobbitt from England, all of whom crewed for me last year. Bev Drummond joined in from Mesa and my business partner Myron Kuzych came down from Canada as the last member - I think he decided to check out just how crazy we all were for himself. Bill Peschka from Phoenix joined us in Trinidad, Colorado to help a very exhausted crew get us to the finish. Billís wonderful wife Anne drove him up from Phoenix to meet us.

Not having done any team racing before this was all a new experience. I didnít even know what the right questions were, so we found out the hard way during the race. I had this notion that Peter & I would be able to sort things out as we went along, but in truth, we didnít get to say more than a few dozen words to each other the whole race because one of us was always riding and much of the time we (at least I was) too tired to talk much or certainly make much sense.

I led out the first 30 miles or so of which 16 miles was a parade start, so the real race didnít get going until an hour had elapsed. The various rider abilities & strategies soon became obvious. It seemed like everyone was faster & better than I was. I donít recall our position when I made the transition to Peter, but I was glad to let him fight all these speed demons for a while. By the time Peter took over we started into the beginning of the hills/climbs and I was glad to see him giving such a great push to hold up our end. I remember Peter saying that if we were to slip behind, at least he wanted to do it with some honor and hold our heads up for a while, so I gave it my best. My heat rate for the first two days seldom dropped under 150 bpm and spent a lot of time hovering around the 160 mark - pretty extreme for me with a resting rate of around 40 and a max of about 180. I knew I was pushing my limit, but it was hard not to with the excitement of all these competitors just in front & just behind. I really didnít want to let My Team down, so nobody was going to pass us on my watch if I could help it. Team Colorado had dropped me in the dust on my first pull like I was standing still. I remember thinking, how do we have a chance with guys like this in the race. Before dark I remember seeing them on the side of the road on part of a fairly steep climb with a look of amazement on their faces as this ĎOld Guyí went on by. I was more amazed than they were and in fact spent the next several hours worrying about staying ahead of them. As it turned out I didnít see them again & heard later that they DNFíd. The 4-woman team RB4/Biac kept close behind or ahead for the first 300 miles or so and then began extending their lead progressively hour by hour. Near John Day on a steep climb I saw their vehicle parked along side the road ready for an exchange - I knew trouble was just ahead as a fresh rider from their team would soon be passing me on the hill as climbing is not one of my better attributes. Sure enough, Anne Huntington comes by much faster than I can respond to and takes the lead - until her chain comes off - so I have a momentary reprieve. Maybe I can keep the lead until the summit, so with renewed strength I give it all Iíve got, expecting to be passed at any moment. The problem must have been worse than I thought for her as I didnít see them again on that pull. There must be something in their strategy as they are either amazingly fast or we are passing them. It soon becomes apparent later as they disappear into the distance as our fatigue sets in, not to be seen again until the finish. Team Extreme continues to be a pain as they constantly keep the pressure on and we do want to pass them. Peter passed off to me about 2:30 AM of the 3rd day near Twin Falls ID (mile 614) and I saw some flashing lights up ahead. Maybe I should make the effort to catch up - maybe Team Extreme. A half hour later and the lights are really close & ready to be passed. It is Extreme with Charlie Liskey riding. Can I really pass this fellow? Well yes, just before the time station and his handoff to Steve Winfrey. Now Iíve had it. Fresh legs and still a couple of hours to my hand off to Peter at the next time station - never be able to hold Steve off until then - well, just maybe. 5 miles to the time station & Peter & still not passed - all of a sudden there is Charlie on the roadside - they are doing another change - fresh legs again and Iíll never be able to hold off this attack - well maybe. Iíll just give it my best. I canít see if Charlie is gaining or not but at least heís not passing - finally the time station & Peter ready to pick up the slack. Didnít see much of Extreme again until Charlie went steaming past me on the downside of Leadville like a demon possessed. He must have gone by me 10 miles an hour faster than I was going & there was nothing I could do to respond. The combination of altitude, lung congestion & dehydration (I wasnít aware of the dehydration until later) slowed me down but Charlie had a new lease of life on the downhill and we wouldnít see them again until the finish. 

Oklahoma - my nemesis last year where extreme cramping virtually stopped my ability to ride. Iím feeling near death and my crew senses things are not going well. They call our crew chief Lanie & he diagnoses dehydration & they pump an IV into me and put me on 70 oz per hour of water. I think Iím about to float away, but 12 hours later, Iím coming back to life & by 24 hours feeling pretty good and riding well (for me) A little saddle sore, but otherwise not much the worse for wear. There is the motel where I cried Uncleí last year and it is passed at 18 + miles per hour. We are back on track and Iím feeling much better. So is my crew as several of them remember last year too and we have gone on by with a good head of steam.

Late on day 7 we are passing several of the leading solo riders. The only way for me to pass any of them is to have them whipped by most of RAAM, but still, to pass Danny Chew on a hill is not an opportunity that is likely to come my way again.

Finally the end is near as the police show up to escort Peter. Then itís my turn for the escort and soon Peter & I are on the final few miles over the causeway to the finish. For some reason tears of happiness begin to flow and I am overcome with a sense of gratitude. Iím so elated that pain & tiredness has gone into hiding and only the brightness of the morning and sweet smell of success are apparent. Itís hot, but I donít notice it - we seem to be riding effortlessly and all a sudden, we are there.

Great partner, great support crew, great race.

Iíll be back.

Jim Pitre 

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