EL DORADO, Kans. (VN) — All but one of the top ten solo males were beyond the half-way point of the 2011 Race Across America on Monday morning. This second half of RAAM has a distinctly different flavor than the first. For many, the attitude for the first half is one of “charge!” or “full speed ahead,” but by that halfway point (7 miles east of Pratt, Kansas) for some the mantra becomes “survival” or “What was I thinking?”
With our leader Christoph Strasser being somewhere between Camdenton and Jefferson Cityy, Missouri, and tenth place Claudio Clarindo somewhere west of Pratt, the top ten are spread out over roughly 250 miles of Kansas and Missouri, which by RAAM standards is “bunched up.” Really. Over the 30-year history of RAAM we’ve seen huge leads disappear over the course of a day or a particularly harsh night. Saddle sores, stomach virus, weather or fatigue are just a few of the many factors that could slow or stop any of these racers.
Top five solo men
First: CHRISTOPH STRASSER (Austria): 1,821.40 miles, 4 days, 18 hours, 17 minutes, average speed 15.94 mph
This guy continues to impress. On day 1 he and second place Marko Baloh began a 36-hour game of cat-and-mouse that lasted until Mexican Hat, Utah, where Baloh, who was leading by a mere two minutes, took his first sleep. Strasser hasn’t given up the lead since, some 1,159 miles later. While he’s young by RAAM standards (29 years old) he has plenty of experience. He set a fast pace at RAAM 2009 before DNF-ing with lung issues. In the time since that RAAM disappointment, he’s built his palmares. “I had very good races. I won the World Championship title in Ultra Bike and was second place in Race Around Slovenia behind Jure Robic. And I set a new record for crossing Austria.” He credits his successes to a slight change in his training; “I pushed down the hours of training and pushed up the intensity.”
Second: MARKO BALOH (Slovenia): 1,706 miles, 4 days, 15 hours, 15 minutes, average speed 15.25 mph
The 44 year old, currently one time station behind Strasser, is one of the most experienced racers in RAAM 2011, having scored a second place and third place as a solo, and earning a win on a two-rider team. On Sunday Baloh’s crew member Anze Baselu said, “He’s having no problems. He is a bit sleepy. But they are always sleepy on RAAM. He is eating good. And he is coming good now in the second half of the race. Yesterday (Saturday) there was a lot of headwind so he was maybe a little bit slower. But today (before Greensbug, Kansas) he was very good; his average speed was 20 miles per hour.”
Third. ALBERTO BLANCO (USA): 1,706 miles, 4 days, 17 hours, 55 minutes, average speed 14.98 mph
The 29 year old RAAM rookie continues to impress. By the end of day one he established himself as a front runner and hasn’t been out of the top five since. And despite a case of Shermer’s neck (severe fatigue of the neck muscles) that’s had him wearing a neck support device since Sunday morning, he and Gerhard Gulewicz have been battling over third place since Sunday morning. Don’t give up on Blanco — Alan Larson also battled Shermer’s neck in 2004, resorted to a similar support device, and went on to win.
Fourth. GERHARD GULEWICZ (Austria): 1,647 miles, 4 days, 14 hours, 33 minutes, average speed 14.90 mph
For the past two years the former body builder has been the bridesmaid, finishing second behind Danny Wyss in 2009 and second behind Jure Robic in 2010. His first RAAM was 2006, “The first year I finished seventh,” he recalled, “… then third in 2007, then I had the accident,” (he had a race-ending crash at Kayenta, Arizona). Six consecutive RAAM starts make him the most experienced rider in this year’s field. “I think it’s my big point in racing RAAM. There are a lot very good riders and everybody wants to win. If I am fast and can put all of my knowledge from the past years together, then I hope that it works.” He’s having a good ride and is actually well ahead of his 2010, currently holding a total overall average speed nearly 2mph faster than at this point last year.
Fifth. MARK PATTINSON (USA): 1,582.50 miles, 4 days, 16 hours, 9 minutes, average speed 14.11 mph.
Here’s a rider who shouldn’t be counted out. His second-place ride in his rookie ride of 2008 startled the RAAM world and served notice that he’s a factor. He sat out 2009, returned in 2010 and was having a good race, and was running as high as fifth place when he succumbed to Shermer’s neck in Missouri. Like Gulewicz, Pattinson is also ahead of his 2010 race. He put in some rough miles yesterday, battling high winds in Kansas. Those winds continue today but he’s on course and will reach Missouri sometime today.
First. (under age 50) LEAH GOLDSTEIN (Israel): 1,582.50 miles, 5 days, 16 hours, 5 minutes, average speed 11.63mph
While she’s essentially racing against only the clock — the only other rider in her category dropped out back at Kayenta, Arizona), Goldstein continues to put in a stunning ride. While her current overall speed average of 11.63mph is short of the records of six-time female solo Seana Hogan — her best was 13.23mph —Goldstein’s pace is the fastest in years, possibly since the reign of Hogan. On Monday Goldstein was east of El Dorado, Kansas, on her way to the 1,646 mile mark at Yates Center, Kansas.
First (age 50+) KATHY ROCHE-WALLACE (USA): 1,200.9 miles 5 days, 11 hours, 6 minutes, average speed 9.16 mph
Like Goldstein, Roch-Wallace is the sole survivor of her category — Janet Christiansen and Debbie Tirrito each pulled out back in Arizona. While this is her first involvement with RAAM, she’s an experienced endurance athlete, having done the 24 National Challenge in Michigan, Primal Quest, some 10-Day Adventure Races and a Triple Ironman. She even did a personal challenge of doing five Ironmans in five days. There’s an organized 10 Ironmans if 10 days in Mexico called “La Decca,” but since she wasn’t able to do that she decided to do it all on her own. “I really wanted to do ten successive days of full Ironman distances,” she said, “But I only made it to five. The hard part was being by myself. Without the other athletes out there it’s really hard to stay mentally focused.”