By Steve Medcroft, Special to

Allen Larsen fell into an embrace with his family moments after winning the 2003 Insight Race Across America at 9:42 a.m. Tuesday morning, exactly eight days, 23 hours, and 36 minutes and 2992 miles after he left San Diego.

Larsen maintained a 13.55 mile per hour average over the duration to win RAAM in only his second year competing in the non-stop transcontinental bike race. Larsen took a gamble early on when he opted to forego a rest break until after he reached New Mexico, 700 miles and almost two days into the race. The risky tactic earned him a lead he never relinquished.

The move was designed to gain him the advantage of a lead on the road which, many past competitors and winners have said, can give a rider an edge in the inevitable psychological battle that makes up much of RAAM’s challenge. And winning this year’s RAAM was Allen’s goal from the start.

From hearing him talk of his plans at the start in San Diego, it was obvious that he intended no less for himself. He’s come a long way since an ice patch on a highway in his home state of Washington turned his life upside-down.

Larsen writes on his website that “In January of 1988 I was coming around a corner by Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 and hit black ice. I found myself in position number 12 of a 35-car pileup that left me with an injured back. After various attempts through doctors, chiropractors and various means of medical help, I had to face reality that my dream of a career in bicycling and even riding in any degree had been diminished in a matter of moments. I put the bicycle away and tried to do what I could to heal my back.”

The path to recovery — physical therapy, massage and extensive chiropractic work — led him to conclude that a routine of regular exercise would strengthen his body and give his system the support it needed to help him recover from a daily life of pain.

“I began to ride again,” he says after re-discovering exercise. “It felt good to get back in the saddle, natural. I began doing short rides of about 25 miles and then found myself doing more and more.”

That “more” led to riding an event from Seattle to Portland, about 200 miles. “Up to this point, this was the longest ride I’d ever done.” He took that first long ride easy. But soon, he picked these long rides up to racing pace.

“I chose to enter Cannonball, which is a 275-mile race from Seattle to Spokane. By the time I reached Snoqualmie Pass I found myself in the lead as I caught up to Jan Heine. Jan Heine was not only the current leader, but was the record holder of Cannonball and always did the race unsupported.

“We decided to work together to try to pool our resources if you will, and I found myself calling Teresa (Larsen’s wife) via cell phone to say ‘meet me at the Cle Elum exit to give me all the food you can, but then I won’t see you ‘til the finish line because we’re going for the win.’ As we drew near to Spokane it seemed possible to not only win but to set a new record as well.”

Which they did (275 miles, 13h 06m, unsupported – year 2000). “It was a victory for me and a taste of something I had missed more than I realized in the 10 years I had not competed”

From there, Larsen qualified for RAAM at the Race Across Oregon and lined up in Portland in 2002 for his first trans-continental race. “Once I crossed the RAAM finish line in 2002 (as Rookie of the Year), I truly believed my curiosity was tamed and I’d done it. But within 24 hours as I heard the crew talking about next year, I found myself thinking… ’if I made some changes and took all I learned from this race, who knows…’”

Larsen said he came to RAAM 2003 “desiring to do my best, but very aware that anything can happen. I would love to come in first place and dream of it often. This kind of victory would be so sweet. It would say thank you to all those who believed in me, helped me and prayed for me. It would hopefully inspire others that anyone can overcome and press on towards a goal.”

That dream is now realized.

The Race For Second
Although he remained strong throughout the 2003 RAAM, maintaining his 14-plus mile per hour average until the final two days, Larsen knew there was an equally strong chaser in second place; Rob Kish.

Kish, the 18-time RAAM racer and three-time winner, was still working his way though the last 160 miles of the course Tuesday afternoon and expected to finish Tuesday night.

Kish was always a threat to Larsen because of his seemingly limitless ability to keep moving at pace. While other riders struggle through slow patches; while their average speeds decline over time; while they rest, withdraw from medical conditions; Kish is out there riding, keeping his pace, resting and eating to plan, almost like a machine. As long as Kish was behind him, Larsen knew he could not sacrifice any time on the bike.

RAAM is a sporting event where just finishing is a prize of its own. Despite tremendous will and desire to finish, RAAM can be too physically overwhelming for even the most prepared and determined athlete. Withdrawing from the race on Tuesday were Slovenian rookie Markoh Baloh, Rebecca Smith, a nurse from Portland Oregon and RAAM 2003’s lone female soloist, and Mark Patten.

Smith, it appears, succumbed to water-retention problems and kidney issues, similar to those that drove Fabio Biasiolo from the race on Sunday.

On Tuesday, Baloh cited medical reasons for stopping as well.

The Team Race
All of the teams have now finished since Harreither/VAV Versicherung won the four-man team division Sunday evening. A testament to the field and to the race, every team finished in less than eight days. The two four-person mixed teams finished within 1 hour of each other – after eight days of racing across the country. In the four-man team competition, Tampa-based Florida Orthopedic Institute and the German Power of Mind team also finished within one hour of each other.

Organizers are also happy with the new eight-person corporate challenge division, which brings the experience of RAAM within reach of almost any group of dedicated cycling enthusiasts.

Still on the Road
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 12 solo racers left on the course. The last of them, Paul Bonds, had passed time station 38 in East Germantown, Pennsylvania and, as of Tuesday mid day, has only 770 miles remaining to the finish. To qualify for an official RAAM finish time, racers must be in and counted by noon on Friday. Also on the bubble is Beny Furer, the one-armed 47-year-old from Wallis, Switzerland, and Atilla Kaldi, a racer with the goal of being the first Hungarian solo finisher.

The Next Two Days
RAAM headquarters will be greeting all finishers over the next couple of days. Winner celebrations, division of the $40,000 purse, and a memorial of Brett Malin will all take place Wednesday night during RAAM’s closing banquet.

Current Standings:
Rider – last time check – time reachedAllen Larsen – Winner – 8d 23h 36m
Rob Kish – 2760.9 – 14:09
Jure Robic – 2715.1 – 11:43
Marcel Knaus – 2715.1 – 13:41
Rick Ashabranner – 2630.2 – 11:26
Dino Nico Valsesia – 2630.2 – 14:05
Terry Lansdell – 2630.2 – 14:07
Martin Lorenz – 2583.7 – 13:15
Ish Makk – 2494.8 – 12:06
Keith Krombel – 2315.1 – 12:53
Beny Furrer – 2315.1 – 13:55
Atila Kaldi – 2205.1 – 13:00
Paul Bonds – 2150.0 – 14:10Two Person Men’s
Rieper / Goodwin – Winner – 7d 15h 56m
Epic Racing – 2921.7 – 7d 21h 00mFour Person Men’s
Harreither/VAV – Winner – 6d 06h 13m
Areté Racing – 2921.7 – 6d 15h 03m
Team FOI – 2921.7 – 7d 02h 48m
Power of Mind – 2921.7 – 7d 03h 42mFour Person Mixed
Team Hydro Chg Winner – 6d 16h 33m
Grupo Guapo – 2921.7 – 7d 15h 30mCoporate Team
Team Insight – Winner – 6d 17h 32m
Ride to Remember 2921.7 – 6d 19h 20m