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Veteran cycling journalist Rupert Guinness is nearing the halfway mark across the United States, and he hasn’t even left Australia.
Guinness has been on his bike now for a week, racing a virtual edition of the famed Race Across America from a garage in Sydney. Overnight, he was zeroing in on 2,000km, not quite half the 4,542km total distance from “coast to coast” that is expected to take about another week or so.
“The middle-of-the-race fatigue has started to hit,” Guinness said Monday. “It’s harder to get the watts up now, but I’ve taken a bit of a lighter tempo so I won’t blow myself out. It’s important to get through this transition period as fresh and healthy as possible.”
Guinness, 58, would have preferred to be on the open roads of the United States this month, racing in what would have been his first attempt at the Race Across America. When the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancelation of the 2020 race, Guinness wasn’t going to be stopped that easily.
Instead, he and his support crew quickly regrouped to try to do the race virtually with home trainers and video-based software. More than a dozen other RAAM racers have since stepped up to join the virtual challenge.
Guinness and his crew are set up inside a car dealership in Sydney, and since he started last week, media, friends, family and sport celebrities have filtered through to encourage his efforts. People come and go, but Guinness keeps pushing on, riding up to 20 hours on the trainer before stepping out of the pedals for a few hours of sleep.
Guinness has been trying to mimic conditions on the road as much as possible. Of course, there’s no rain, heat or wind on the home trainer, but he’s been tracing the distances and vertical via software programs that provide contours and elevation gain.
A full support staff, with masseurs, health experts, cooks and coaches are there to help feed him and keep him going physically as well as emotionally.
“I wouldn’t say virtual racing is easier than outdoor racing,” Guinness told SBS. “The gears I ride here are the ones I would have ridden on the road. It’s just like I am there.”
Guinness isn’t the only one. According to the race tracker, there are 16 other racers “out there” somewhere tracing the route via a home trainer.
Guinness, who’s covered the Tour de France since the 1980s, decided to take on RAAM after racing in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race across Australia. The first edition ended tragically when legendary long-distance racer Mike Hall was killed in a road fatality near the end of the inaugural edition in 2017. Guinness pulled out, but returned the next year to complete the entire distance, and chronicled his adventures in a best-selling book.
According to his online marker, he’s rolled out of the Rocky Mountains and will start riding west to east across the Great Plains as his virtual adventure hits the second week.
“I’m learning a lot about myself mentally and physically,” said Guinness, who is using the event as a platform to promote mental health. “I have a lot of time to ponder on the fact that I’m putting myself through this suffering — I chose to. There are many out there who don’t have a choice. This journey has made me realize that perhaps the bigger picture is to deliver a message of hope.”
During the COVID-19 lockdown, there have been some extraordinary indoor riding exploits. Guinness and those with him this month, however, are creating a league of their own. RAAM is already one of cycling’s most challenging long-distance endurance races. Doing it on a home trainer is pushing the suffering to new levels.