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Ultra Cycling - An Enigmatic Beast
By Staff
Date: 2/4/2006
Ultra Cycling - An Enigmatic Beast

An Enigmatic Beast

Understanding ultra-cycling is often as challenging as racing it. To be a successful ultra-cyclist a rider must have many abilities and strengths none can be more crucial than mental fortitude. The ever-increasing onslaught of physical and mental deterioration presents numerous obstacles for the rider. In races like RAAM or the newly formed Le Tour Ultime and to lesser degrees the Furnace Creek 508 and the many 24-hour Championships, "DNF's" (people that Do Not Finish the race) often represents the majority of starters.

It isn't that the ultra elite come unprepared or intent on unrealistic goals, it just simply gets harder to turn the cranks the further down the road you go and most keep the wheels rolling until they reach the very point that they can go no more. The mind and body of an ultra-cyclist are more intricately intertwined; it is a necessity of survival and success. If a rider is fortunate, physical complications will arrive gently, not suddenly. These pains and injuries can also pierce a rider's mental armor exposing either unexpected or overly anxious vulnerabilities. Race leaders in multi-day events often operate on as little as one-hour sleep per day. To most this seems impossible and for most it is, the commitment and training to be a competitive ultra-cyclist is an all-consuming activity. To compete in an event like RAAM, Ultime or the Furnace Creek 508 are life-altering experiences.

While it doesn't always end with a champagne drenched podium there is much reward in the attempt. In RAAM 2005, the 2004 winner, Jure Robic held a commanding lead late in the race, but he only had one gear; hard, and he kept it up. In blazing heat, riding on pain and dreams, he kept working emphatically to increase his lead. In his mind he found some relief and solace with images of his wife and child. Their faces calming the champion, reminding him of a softer more loving life, they provided an oasis away from the constant abrasion of the road. Then suddenly, he couldn't picture them anymore, he couldn't remember his baby's smile light up as he held him in his arms. At that moment Jure crossed over. He felt bad, really bad, the efforts of leading the Race Across America across 7 states had taken its toll and Jure stopped racing.

Behind him, Mike Trevino lost consciousness and tumbled over the bars of his bike, destroying his shoulder and his race. He flew home. Robic was being handled by his crew, but the last thing he wanted to show was his softer side, so he lashed out at them, complained about everything under the blazing sun. The crew knew Jure needed sleep and convinced him to do so on the side of the road. An hour later Jure returned to the saddle and rode on to his second consecutive RAAM victory.

Most ultra riders are hard pressed to explain their motivation as ultra-endurance cycling influences every aspect of their lives; it is their lifeblood. To them, the question of "why" is like asking someone why they breathe. The answer is something we all know but are often reluctant to face. The value of ultra racing goes far beyond athletic competition into the life of a rider. Riders speak of enlightened senses, spirituality, an affinity with environment and sometimes feel that they channel organic energies. With every turn of the cranks the rider transfers his or her energy to the road, each pedal rotation becomes a "grain of sand" more labored.

An ultra-cyclist would rather crawl than quit, but they accept it when it happens to them. Sometimes it isn't wise or safe to continue. Mental alertness, dehydration and a multitude other possibilities can be potentially lethal but every ultra-rider knowingly accepts the risks in their quests to accomplish the impossible, something they often make look easy, which is the last thing it will ever be.

A few prominent ultra-races this year.

Raid Provence Extreme, June 3rd, France
The 642 km course with a total of nearly 9,000 meters of climbing starts and finishes in Saint Remy de Provence and travels over Le Mont Ventoux (1910m) and Col du Pas de la Graille. The race also passes through the beautiful Jabron Valley, Valensole Plateau, and Grand Canyon du Verdon. Last year's winner: Wolfgang Fasching of Austria. For more information please visit:

Race Across America, June 11th, USA
The big gun on the ultra calendar "RAAM" starts in Oceanside, California and travels all the way east to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Despite the new rule change mandating sleep for soloists this race promises to be highly contested. 2004/2005 winner, Jure Robic of Slovenia, is expected to return to attempt what no one has ever been able to do before, win three in a row. For more information please visit:

National 24 Hour Challenge, June 17th, Michigan
Over 1 million miles have been cumulatively ridden by competitors in this race and each new year unfolds new drama in this highly competitive event. For more information please visit:

Race Across Oregon, July 22nd, Oregon
RAO is a very tough race, with over 40,000 feet of climbing in 538 miles of racing. In 2005, less than 50% of solo riders made it to the finish line. RAO is a race where many riders, cut their teeth and look towards RAAM. For more information please visit: RAO

UK 24 Hour Championship, July 22nd, UK
The English are time trial specialists and they consider this a big chance to shine. For more information please visit  Website

Quadzilla, July 29th, Ithaca, New York
350 or 400 miles on a scenic route, be alert though race time 5 AM. More details @ Website

Round the Czech Republic Nonstop, Aug 3rd
780 miles around the country. This relatively new race is well organized and contested. More info @ Website

Boston Montreal Boston 1200k, Aug 17th
This 750 mile randonnée race has a 90-hour cut-off. Nothing like an early start when you have 750 miles to pedal, riders set off at 4 AM. For more information please visit: Website

Le Tour Ultime, Sep 1st, France
Over 145,000 feet of climbing and 4,000 kilometers of racing on the roads of Le Tour de France, this ultra newcomer holds great promise for the future. For more information please visit:

UMCA North American
24-Hr Championship, Sep 2nd

The name says it all. For more information please visit:

Furnace Creek 508, October 7th, Death Valley
An extremely intense event, highly contested in usually brutal conditions. Please visit their very informative website

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