Big Unit, Bigger Unit
Richard was fairly glassy eyed there for a minute yesterday, but while Charlie was on the bike tonight, Richard actually slept for a good hour and rested well for another. Heading out into his three-hour ride this morning, Richard was relaxed and reported feeling pretty good. “I feel like a guy who has ridden 500 miles on a bike,” he said. “But that’s a pretty good thing.” His aches and pains, he said, were not specific, also a good sign. “All in all, pretty good.”
“Pretty good” also works for Charlie. “Sometimes when I start to feel a little sluggish out there or something, the guys in the Follow crank up the music for me, and that helps a lot in those moments, gets me pumped up. Physically, I’m fine and mentally, I’m fine. We’re riding strong.”
So, let’s see. In summary, we’ve got two racers, both feeling fine, nine crew members who know what to do, 1,000 miles behind us and 2,000 miles in front of us. It’s all good.
It’s so good, in fact, that we beat the mandatory 72-hour cutoff time by 11.5 hours. This allows us to officially stay in the race. Racers who don’t make the mandatory cutoff times - there’s another one at the Mississippi River at approximately 2,000 miles, and then there’s Annapolis – can continue riding but will not be counted as official RAAM finishers.
And we’ve got a couple of guys here who want to wear that official RAAM finisher’s jersey. They don’t just give those things away, you can’t buy them, and only a select few ever earn them. Those suckers are like gold (or I suppose green, for those of you who prefer golf analogies.) Anyway, that’s a fashion show all of us would kill to see - Charlie and Richard wearing that jersey.
We’re on our way.
Approaching Taos, we crossed over Amanga Pass, which, at 10,250 is the highest point on the RAAM course. Our mountain strategy worked very efficiently for us there. In one-hour shifts, Richard began the climb, then Charlie, the better climber of the two, took over and rode to the summit, where we performed a racer exchange so that Richard, the more confident descender, could come down.
An interesting note here: Even though Richard handles himself confidently on 50-mph descents, he was held to 30 mph on this particular one because of the RAAM rules. A note in the official Route Book warns: “The road surface is generally good for the posted four mile 7% downgrade. Bikes faster than posted 30 MPH speed limits at night will force follow vehicles to violate RAAM rules.” (Ital theirs.) RAAM rules state that "racers must obey all traffic laws and ... violation of any traffic laws by racers or crew may result in a penalty."
Seems pretty cut-and-dried. We reminded Richard of that situation, we followed the rules, and we are still penalty free.
Of course we would follow the rules on our own, but we can’t help but be constantly reminded of them because of the RAAM official who is out and around, policing our section of the course. We keep seeing his parked on the side of the road, he inside watching, sometimes with official in tow. Usually, we just give him a friendly wave or a thumbs up and keep on cruising down the road. So far, we’re racing clean, that is, with no time penalties.
Also, if you’re following the race because you’re a cyclist or a RAAM fan (and not just reading this because someone on the crew is your mom or dad or old best friend from high school) you will have noticed that we’ve got an interesting sub-plot shaping up. We have been pretty consistently closing the gap on the E-Hub team, a young strong team from Slovenia. While our racers have been cognizant of riding their own race and chasing the age group record - which
are still comfortably ahead of at this point – the E-Hub team poses an interesting challenge.
Back at the start line three days ago, Richard mused a couple of times, “Wow, those guys are strong. Wouldn’t it be nice to hang with them?”
Nothing again the E-Hubbers, but they have dangled the carrot, so to speak, and still riding within themselves, Richard and Charlie have cut what was once a two-hour E-Hub lead to 50 minutes, then to less than half an hour. Might want to keep an eye on that. We’re also still out in front of several of the four-man teams, which logic would dictate should be in front of us now. We all started at the same time from the same place, and with four racers instead of two, they should be fresher, stronger and faster.
The guys are riding impressively. We’re not surprised. At 6-8 and 5-8, they might look like Mutt & Jeff, but these guys are monsters on a bike.
"The Big Unit and the Little Unit," Charlie quipped, when I commented on their size difference. Crew member Eileen challenged him, saying, "No, Charlie, you're a Big Unit," she said.
We collectively decided on "Big Unit and Bigger Unit."
That's appropriate because in that 5-8 body there beats a gigantic heart. Nothing little about Charlie Combs.
Oh and by the way … Richard passed E-Hub at 5:54 local time this morning. As we drove through Red River, he was about two minutes ahead. But after an E-Hub exchange, the stronger of the E-Hub racers caught and passed us again. "Couldn't hold that big guy off," Richard said.
Both of our racers are of the same mind - we don't want to get caught up in a back-and-forth passing game with anybody, because we'd rather not distract from our own strategy of staying steady and strong. But 1,000 miles into the race, passing a team you’d merely hoped to hang with is a huge thrill. Still a long way to go, but this is a great boost for us.
Also, just got word that Slovenian ultra athlete Jure Robic rolled into Time Station 36 this morning and is still on pace to set a new solo men’s record. Mark Pattinson, who finished second to Robic last year (which, in solo RAAM, is pretty much like winning) and for whom Charlie and Richard crewed, says Robic looks tired. I know absolutely nothing about being on my bike for more than say, 30 minutes or so, but I figure you ought to look tired after riding 2,155 miles in roughly six days. But Mark knows what he’s talking about, so we’re trusting him on that.
Best of luck to Robic, and all the solo men. For all Robic has given to the sport and to RAAM, he deserves a new record. Plus, he seems like a pretty good dude. We’re all wishing him the best.