On Monday, as Austrian cyclist Christoph Strasser stormed past the 2200 mile-mark well into his fifth day at the 2017 Race Across America (RAAM), it was turning out to be a memorable race for the Indian cycling community too.
Amit Samarth, a doctor from Nagpur, had by then cycled over 1520 miles. His fellow countryman Srinivas Gokulnath, a senior medical officer and lieutenant colonel with the Indian Army was just 100 miles behind at 1420 miles covered and narrowing the gap. The distances mentioned are approximate and rounded off for ease of narration. If they cover RAAM’s mammoth distance of roughly 3000 miles within the cut-off limit of 12 days, either of them could become the first Indian to complete the race in the solo category. The third Indian participant in the solo category this year, Samim Rizvi, unfortunately ended up Did Not Finish (DNF).
In 2011, Samim had managed to cycle the whole distance of the race but finished just outside the official cut-off limit of 12 days. The 2017 attempt was Samim’s fourth time at RAAM (for more on Samim please try this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/chasing-a-10-day-raam/).
Also in the fray is Sahyadri Cyclists, a four person-team, which has in its support crew Hitendra Mahajan and Mahendra Mahajan who had completed RAAM in 2015 as a two person-team. Particular mention must be made of Andre Kajlich, the first handcyclist to qualify for the solo category at RAAM. By Monday evening he was past the 1550 mile-mark and was ahead of Amit. Andre is a double amputee. According to media reports, he lost his legs during his university days in Prague. On a night out with friends he was hit by a subway train. He survived but paid a steep price. Life in the aftermath of the accident brought him to endurance events. Kajlich is a top notch paratriathlete with several Ironman and Ultraman competitions under his belt.
In 2014, Strasser – he is hugely respected in the world of endurance cycling – had completed RAAM in 7 days, 15 hours and 56 minutes. Besides wins at RAAM he also holds the record for the maximum distance cycled on a road bike in 24 hours – 556.856 miles (896.173 km) and the record for cycling across Australia – 6 days, 10 hours and 58 minutes to pedal from Perth to Sydney.
Usually RAAM solo winners finish in 8-9 days. Given the varied challenges cyclists face in this race, ranging from sheer distance to cycling almost 22 hours every day, anything can happen in the days remaining to race completion.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. For the spot report from Oceanside, the starting point of RAAM, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/2017-raam-gets-underway-a-spot-report/)