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To sleep, or not to sleep: that is the RAAM question
 
By P. Stone
Date: 3/14/2006
To sleep, or not to sleep: that is the RAAM question
 

To sleep, or not to sleep: that is the RAAM question.

For most, the definition of ultra endurance cycling is to ride as far you can, as fast as you can on as little sleep as you can, but veteran RAAM race director Jim Pitre recently introduced a new "Enduro" division which mandates that solo riders stop for 40 hours during their 3,000 mile quest. As Mr. Pitre said, “We wouldn’t allow a horse or dog to do anything like RAAM in the traditional way”.

And when you think of it .....

Much discussion has speculated on the cause and possible results of the new Enduro division. Mr. Pitre clearly states that commercial considerations, along with rider safety were his motivating factors. The technology and manpower required to stage, officiate and provide timely race-coverage for RAAM is considerable. While RAAM has its supporters, the sponsorship required to develop RAAM has eluded race organizers. Mr. Pitre thinks that RAAM may be considered too extreme by mainstream sponsors. A sentiment that RAAM Media director Paul Skilbeck echoes in a letter posted on the official RAAM website, Mr. Skilbeck writes:

“In 1994 I was a freelance reporter based in Britain and VeloNews was one of my main clients. On one trip to the USA I first heard about RAAM from an editor there. After the editor explained the race, I immediately dismissed it as a race for a fringe group who had something to prove. ‘Not a proper bike race at all,’ I remember thinking. The editor agreed with me. At that point in time, I was one of the most widely published cycling journalists writing in English and I dismissed RAAM, just like that."

By instituting rest breaks, RAAM aligns itself a little closer to more readily accepted types of bicycle-racing which Pitre hopes will also attract a larger participant base from a wider demographic circle.

Riders like Jure Robic and Allen Larsen might feel handicapped by Enduro as they are so adept at riding on very little sleep, while other riders like Marko Baloh are optimistic about their chances in the new division. I asked last year's 4th place RAAM finisher David Hasse if he would compete in the Traditional or Enduro division this year but he declined to comment. Hasse is a rider who is right on the edge between the two styles, a ferocious, yet unassuming competitor he could definitely benefit from the additional sleep but would that translate into a large enough increase in speed to offset the sack time? It is a question only Mr. Hasse can answer.

As Lon Haldeman said, “Traditional will be harder to finish, Enduro will be harder to win”.

The new division welcomes a new breed of RAAM rider. A stronger, faster and likely a younger rider. It is generally accepted that mature athletes are in better control of their minds and younger riders enjoy quicker recovery. The intensity of those competing to win the new Enduro division will be astronomical. To equal the Traditional race pace, riders will have to increase their on bike speed by approximately 2.5 miles per hour. That difference will be dramatic and considerable energy will be required merely to fuel the mental focus required. Yet those that seek only to complete RAAM but not necessarily win will be pleasantly accommodated with more structure to pace themselves and regular rest and recovery.

Riders often want to rest, but often they keep putting it off and off, too restless to stop and "lose" time in the saddle. When in fact the energy lost when grappling with their urge to sleep is counter-productive. The new Enduro division, lends itself towards better sleep management which on paper makes a RAAM race strategy, if not faster, more efficient. As riders adapt and a new style emerges it is likely RAAM will get faster and a little more humane if not safer.

Two tragic accidents have occurred in RAAM in the last three years. While the cause of each accident can only be left to speculation it is hard to direct the blame at a lack of sleep. However as Jim Pitre states: " I agree that more rest would have done little if anything to prevent the two fatalities, however I do think that there are more close calls & minor accidents that will be averted by more rest. (Mike) Trevino last year went down and separated his shoulder which, in my opinion, is an example of an incident that would have been less likely to happen with more rest. The style of riding exhibited by Robic and others weaving down the road will be reduced – I  believe that the race will be safer in the Enduro mode. -- It won’t preclude injury or death, but I think it will improve the odds".

No one wants injury to play a card in RAAM, still, there is dissention, one past RAAM rider who wished to remain anonymous told me that riding in Enduro would be akin to having sex with a sock on, (or something close to that). It may be true that we wouldn't let a dog do RAAM, but dogs don't climb Everest either, doesn’t mean we should stop climbing or riding.

For the time being very few races are likely to follow RAAM's lead, but then again there just aren't a lot of 3,000 mile bike races out there. Guus Moonen, a RAAM racer and the race director of Le Tour Ultime indicates that there are no plans to mandate breaks in his 2,500 mile race on the roads often traveled by the TDF. "However, we will closely monitor the results and consider its role in later editions of Ultime".

How it will affect female registrations remains to be seen, but at the current level of solo women rider registrations one can hardly anticipate a negative effect.

If Pitre is right, he might look to Buckley's Cough Syrup for sponsorship - proving once again that medicine doesn't have to be easy to swallow to be good for you.

Have an opinion or comment on the new Enduro division or anything else ultra, drop me a line@ ultravelo@velologic.com


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