Monday, June 22, 2009

Racer exchange 101

The main function of the crew is to keep one rider on the road at all times, and ultimately, to get the racers across the country safely to Annapolis. We have to be very careful how we do it because the RAAM rules are very specific about who can do what, who can touch the racer's bike while he is also touching it, exactly where the racer needs to be in the Follow vehicle's headlights during nighttime xchanges, etc. It's all very intimidating for a rookie crew member, even with the comprehensive crew manual that Charlie provided for us. But once you've done it a few times, it becomes so routine that it looks simple. For example, in the short video below, you will see a typical rolling exchange in which the retiring racer crosses wheels with the beginning racer. During daylight hours, which is what applies here, the beginning racer (in this case Richard) can go on along without the Follow vehicle directly behind him. It will catch up to him shortly - during nighttime hours (8 p.m. - 6 a.m. local time) the racer cannot advance forward without the Follow directly accompanying him immediately.

Here's what a smooth, legal exchange looks like.

It looks simple, which is good. But there's a lot that goes into a seamless racer exchange: In a nighttime exchange, the sleeping racer is awakened about 10-15 minutes before the scheduled exchange will take place. He is given food and/or liquid and suits up ... jersey and jacket, shorts, socks, shoes, gloves, scullcap, helmet, headset. The RV driver, meanwhile, is looking for a suitable place to pull over and make the exchange (again, abiding by numerous RAAM rules, of course.) The navigator makes contact with the Follow, which is with the racing rider, to coordinate the time and place of the exchange. Follow crew relays this information to the racer via radio headset.

Another crew member is preparing water, Gatorade and Perpetuem for the beginning racer's bike, while yet another crew member is taking his bike off the rack on the back of the RV. The bike is prepared with the required headlights and taillights and checked for potential mechanical issues. The idea is that, by the time the retiring racer rides up, the beginning racer is ready to roll once they cross wheels to make it a legal exchange.

The retiring racer gives up his bike, which is stripped of empty fluid bottles, visually inspected for potential mechanical issues and racked on the vehicle. Once inside, he eats and/or drinks, changes out of his wet clothing and into dry, loose cotton clothes and gets down to resting. While he's doing that, the crew starts all over - preparing his fluid bottles, charging light and headset batteries, figuring out where the next exchange will take place, depending on how long this riding segment will last. Daytime exchanges are similar, except that the racer is resting in the Follow and that crew takes care of his needs. Once wheels are crossed, the beginning racer can ride ahead until the Follow catches up. It's a crowded house in the Follow, because the resting racer is laying on the floor, surrounded by food, drink, supplies and crew.

Charlie rests in the Follow

Sometimes a racer wants replacement fluids before his segment is finished. In that case, so that he doesn't have to get off his bike, crew members implement a handoff system in which the racer tosses off his empty bottles and accepts handoffs from crew members jogging alongside him. This sounds simple, but it's tricky. The crew member has to jog forward with his back to the racer and with his eyes in front of him, not on the racer, so that he doesn't fall. He holds the bottle of fluids by the top, and the racer rides alongside to grab it and stash it in the bike's bottle cage; this sytstem repeats with another crew member who is 50 or so yards ahead with another bottle waiting to be handed off.

Here, Jonathan watches for Richard's approach and gets ready to time his jogging for the handoff.

Of course, when the whole exchange is over the crew goes back to pick up the bottles the racer has tossed off.

It's very cool stuff if it's done right - a successful exchange leaves the racer relaxed on his bike and the crew satisfied with another smooth exchange. A RAAM racer could lose time on a botched exchange, and RAAM officials are potentially always watching to make sure things are done correctly.

We're happy to report that Team Reaching Heights is running a perfectly clean race with no time penalties assessed against us. This is one of our team goals, and we're happy to be on target.


Anonymous said...

Hey Uncle Richard,
I think what you are doing is very cool, good luck to you guys.

Angela Forsgren

Patrick Mullen said...

Richard and Charlie,
Back here at Reaching Heights world HQ, we're rooting for you. Safe and swift riding! Thank you for supporting our music programs.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you guys are doing great! It is amazing to read what Jeannie has written. It almost seems like we can see and feel the race. I wish we could have been in MD with Julie for when you finish but,alas, family reunions for southerners are a MUST.
Keep up the good work!
Phyllis & Mike