Jim Weinstein, Photo Credit: Bruce Buckley
Jim wanted us to start this post by thanking his family and friends for their support, his crew and other racers for the efforts, and most importantly to the wounded warriors both on the team and around the country that remind him every day…that America is the Land of the Free BECAUSE we are the home of the brave. Enjoy the read.
In an attempt to widen Jim’s cycling horizons he decided to compete in the 2011 Race Across America (RAAM). The event is a 3000 mile bicycle race from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD. It transits across 14 states, climbs more than 100K feet of climbing and for the best teams, is done in under 6 days. Unlike the Tour de France, it’s longer, it has more climbing, and there are no rest days in RAAM. He actually did try to do this in 2010 but one of the support RV’s crashed and the team had to withdraw. Essentially, he was back in 2011 to help finish what they had started!!
The 8-person team event is more than just cycling endurance. In the team category, you have a lot of strategy and logistics that come into play. The back story for the team he joined for 2011 is also a big part of why he did RAAM. Team4Mil is comprised of US military members, active, retired, separated, that share a desire to help raise funds and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project. Jim was elected Racer Captain for the 2011 Team 4Mil RAAM Team and devising team strategy was part of his role. He sought advice from many folks including former Team Type 1 riders who had set the record in 2009. They knew we were out to give their record a run and they were eager to help!
Team 4Mil was made up of 8 racers, 2 alternates, and 21 crew members. They also had 2 RVs, 4 rental vans (1 of which was a dedicated media vehicle), 2 bicycle trailers, and a budget of about $75K to make this happen. A team can complete RAAM on a lower budget but it is tough to be competitive without enough crew and vehicles.
Team RAAM is best done as a relay. Although there is no rule about not having all 8 riders on the road at the same time, you’d obviously wear them all out quickly if you did a team time trial. RAAM teams are fastest when they employ a relay. Rules allow for a “moving” handoff where 1 rider accelerates, the incoming riders front wheel gets in front of the outgoing riders rear wheel, then the outgoing rider continues to accelerate to speed and the incoming rider stops quickly to get back in the van. This moving relay happens at high speed, non-stop, across the entire US. The only exception is that at night, the exchange must be stationary. A good RAAM team might make as many as 500 transitions during the race so efficient movement is important to ensure no wasted effort. Lose a few seconds on each relay and it can mean 30 minutes on your time!
Team 4Mil split the 8 person team up into two 4 person teams. Each 4 person team was responsible for riding a 10 hour shift while the other 4 person team rested in the RVs while being driven about 230 miles up the road. The goal was to go about 200-240 miles depending on speed, terrain, wind, etc…
Jim cranking away on the flats. Photo Credit: Bruce Buckley
Jim’s team of 4 was the first on the road and their goal was to go out with effort but not kill themselves. Coming through the first time station, he was able to pass the Strategic Lions and Team4Mil was in 1st Place! After the pass, he was given the task of descending the glass elevator which Jim did at an average speed of close to 60 mph!! He said that was an amazing rush! At the bottom, he had outrun his follow vehicle so he needed a pre-staged vehicle to ensure he didn’t get lost. RAAM rules require you to stay on the route, if you deviate it can be grounds for disqualification. As they rolled into the warm and dry desert air, the sun began to set, turning the landscape orange. Riding at Lactate Threshold (LR) for 15 minute efforts over and over and over seems like it would be taxing, but Jim said “the constant changing scenery and the fact that you are being chased by a good team was motivation enough to ride hard.” Around midnight on the first night Team 1, which was his 4 riders did the transition with Team 2. The transition was fairly simple, basically 4 riders get off course and 4 new fresh riders go on. The tired riders go to the RV for food, showers, sleep…the ongoing riders, get ready to rumble!
In the RV they had a small shower space but were able to move through it quickly. Our cook would have great food prepared for them each day once their shift was over. They ate foods like beef stew, chili, lentil soup, Risotto…a real feast! The RV would then high tail it about 230 miles down the road to the next Team transition spot. Now, it took about 1 hour for the RV to get moving after the new riders arrived. It takes about 4-5 hours for the RVs to travel the 230 miles (they can’t always travel on the course if the roads are over mountains). This leaves only a few hours of the RV at the new transition spot quite and stationary. This is when they all got the best sleep. Riders were woken about 1 hour before the shifts changed back over and they quickly got dressed, ate breakfast and tried to go to the bathroom! Then it was back on the road for another 10 hours.
Jim Weinstein on the flats outside of Borrego Springs, Photo Credit: Bruce Buckley
When Team 1 picked up the second 10 hour shift they were getting ready to climb the first big climb of the day called Yarnell Grade. Jim has done this climb with friends and he knew that it’s a suffer fest if you want to go hard! He was a bit disappointed to learn that the Strategic Lions were able to pass them during the night. They were slowly pulling away and the team needed to pick up the pace. The team climbed their hearts out holding the lions to a steady (but not growing) lead as they passed through Arizona and into the large expanse of nothingness that is an Indian reservation to the north. The altitude got thinner and he watched as his pulls went from 15 minutes at 330 watts to 300 watts to 280 watts. It was frustrating but he kept telling himself Kansas would be different. After another team exchange they were in the high mountains of Colorado and Team 1’s job was to climb some of the biggest passes in Colorado including Wolf Creek and La Veta pass. These were Colorado monsters and they each took nearly an hour to climb.
Team 2 took over and finished off Colorado beginning the descent out from altitude and when Team 1 took over, it was a race to catch the Strategic Lions. They were now about 90 minutes in front of them and they were ready to turn up the screws on them a bit. Jim’s team 1 guys took HUGE Pulls, him included. In fact, on the way to Pratt, KS time station, Team 4Mil (and Team 1 specifically) set the 2nd fastest time EVER for an average speed between time stations. They averaged 32 mph for over 70 miles and more specifically, they averaged over 30 miles per hour for nearly 250 miles! They brought the lead down to under an hour!!! They could taste lion meat for dinner.
When Team 1 was transitioning to Team 2, Jim looked at their Navy Seal rider on Team 2 and said, “dude, we killed it—do your best to not lose this time.” Then he noticed he was drinking cream and sugar in his coffee. What Navy Seal drinks cream and sugar in his coffee….so, he made fun of him for it. He looked Jim in the eye and said “Jim, I haven’t met my quota for the month” which Jim wasn’t exactly sure what he meant but didn’t want to find out. He was the first to ride and did a great pull as the Team 2 riders finished off Kansas and headed into the flooded Missouri basin.
Here is where the story turns a little Dark for Jim. He started having problems with a saddle abrasion. He ended up spending time in the Emergency Room in Kansas. After getting released, it actually took him quite a few hours to catch the team and get going again.
With 600 miles to go the team made a decision that they were 90 minutes behind the Lions again, the only chance they had to win was to go 100% full gas with all riders for 100 miles, and see if they could eat into their time, if they did, they would keep it going and reassess every 100 miles. However, after 200 miles of riding without rest, at nearly 100% effort (i.e. they could go no harder for that period of time) they had only eaten into there time by about 15 minutes. As rider captain Jim made a decision to tone everything down and they would finish in Annapolis safely. The race is long and anything can happen but they gave it their best shot.
They had two wounded warriors on the team that were instrumental, they had several local guys like Bruce Buckley, our media extraordinaire, and Jim Weinstein, Kyle Pitman and Dan Schindler (ABRT), and several riders from around the country.
The finish! Photo Credit: Bruce Buckley
However, despite crossing the entire country, seeing amazing things….the most amazing thing to Jim was the sight of his friends, family, and former WWVC friends and current Bike Doctor teammates standing at the Pier in Annapolis greeting Team 4Mil as they pulled into the Doc.
Jim said that no words could describe the feeling … but his eye’s welled up as the emotions took over.
The team’s time was 5 days, 12 hours and 5 minutes. This was the 6th fastest time ever recorded for a RAAM Team! Jim was proud to be part of it and proud to call himself a Bike Doctor representative…. and wanted to say “thanks for the opportunity!”