8 men at RAAM: a win/win challenge

8 men at RAAM: a win/win challenge

Motivation, training, difficulties and the importance of small details in ultracycling. These and other things were the topics of our conversation with Kurt Broadhag, a personal trainer by profession and “crazy cyclist” for pleasure. He is the former winner of the Race Across American in 2016 with his “4-man team” which is about to take part in its fourth adventure in the demanding American coast-to-coast race. With a special focus on solidarity.

 

So Kurt, in a nutshell, who are you and what do you do for a living?

I don’t like to give myself a label. I am many things at the same time, I like to think. A cycling enthusiast, writer, academic and fitness entrepreneur.

I also work as a personal advisor for sports and nutrition and many of my clients are film stars. I have a master’s in Sports Medicine from the University of California. At the moment, I am trying to divide my time between the various things I love most: personal training, competitive cycling, studying and researching physiology and nutrition and, of course, spending time at home in Long Beach with my wife and two daughters Kellan and Kyler – 5 and 22 months old respectively.

 

How would you explain the RAAM in simple terms to someone who doesn’t know it?

The RAAM is quite literally a cross-country race through America. Particularly for anyone who goes it alone, it is a race that absorbs as much mental energy as physical effort: it means solo riding for 7-9 days on end, catching a few hours of sleep whenever you can.

Based on my own experience, competing as a team requires a perfect mixture of resilience and speed. Many cyclists might be able to take part,but winning is quite a different matter. Imagine riding and pulling out all the stops under difficult conditions, trying to sleep in a van on the move, trying to shut out the noise, survive the heat, etc. etc. All of this for 3,000 miles and 53,000 metres of elevation gain.

Everyone taking part in the RAAM has a unique experience that most cyclists will never be able to enjoy.

Then each single rider has to work closely with the other members of the team in order to cross the country in the least time possible. Even though the cyclists are the ones who take the limelight, actually the whole team is just as important and the degree of success achieved depends greatly on them too. In my opinion, this is the way team sports should always be.

 

How many RAAMs have you taken part in so far? How do you approach this “crazy” sport?

The 2018 edition will be my fourth RAAM. After our 2016 victory with a 4-man team made up of myself and my three fellow cyclists Chris DeMarchi, Phil Tinstman and Tony Restuccia, we were gone for a year. But now we are back again bigger, stronger and ready to take on a new challenge: we want to win with an 8-man-team, beating the race record.

Our group is called the Team Bemer and the “4 veterans” have been joined by Michael Olheiser, Karl Bordine, Craig Streit and Joshua Stockinger. And to top it all off, we enjoy an extremely prestigious partnership with Selle Italia.

The way we approached this event is like a dream come true.

Before we actually managed, for as long as 8 years, Tony and I wanted to take part in the RAAM more than anything else. The costs to be borne were the main obstacle. They came to about 100,000 dollars between enrolment fees, flights, hotels, the support car, the crew, etc… a huge amount of money and way over our budget.

Coming to race tactics, our approach differs from that of the other teams. We aim to pass the line without taxing our physical forces any more than is necessary.

The idea is to stay as little in the saddle as possible and to go as fast as we can. Each one of us must cycle just the right amount of time – about 3 hours – so that the greatest effort is compensated by sufficient rest. This way all 8 of us get the same amount of sleep and our bodies manage to retain a normal sleep pattern.

 

After the 2016 victory, what are your goals for the year? What role do you occupy in the team?

As a race, the RAAM is quite different to any other and winning it depends entirely on the average speed you can maintain. There is no doubt that we can win and beat the record, but the weather is an essential factor. Without a little helping hand from Mother Nature, everything will be much tougher. Just to give you an idea, in the last two editions we had to face temperatures in excess of 50°, strong headwinds and even fierce storms.

As for my role inside the group, my place is to act as a kind of team manager. I see to sponsors and the charity side of things, then I also take care of logistics together with Tony and other crew members. From a communications point of view, I am also tasked with keeping the spotlight shining on the team and its partners, making sure we all get as much media coverage as possible.

 

What are the greatest difficulties along the way? For instance, the most common sources of physical discomfort?

There is no easy part of the route. You want an example? The unforgiving heat of the desert, the inhospitably cold temperatures and hard climbs in Colorado, the howling winds of Kansas, the endless successions of hillocks in Missouri and the appalling weather conditions as you proceed eastwards, the sudden rises in the Appalachian region… and the list goes on.

In 2016 we finished the race in little more than 5 days, having slept for about 2 hours per day. In a 4-man team you need to ride for 140-150 miles a day mainly on time-trial bike. And it is often your equipment that gives rise to troubles. Clearly, if a saddle is not perfect and if the right precautions are not taken (like using an anti-chafing cream), then sores can become a huge problem.

 

The right saddle is key to good performance levels, then. What features should a saddle have to steer clear of any trouble?

The 2014 race was a fitting case in point. We got the wrong saddle and some of us developed such awful sores that we bled through our shorts. Such excruciating pain is bound to affect your performance. Then we adopted saddles with a cut-out channel and matters improved. Less chafing, less pressure and more aeration. From this point of view, Selle Italia products definitely have the edge. The quality of Italian design really shines through. And then, with its scientific fitting system, there is a guarantee of getting a model and size that perfectly suits your body type.

We are so happy with the Flow technology that this year we will be using a perforated saddle both on the ordinary road bike and on the time-trial bike. The really comfortable and compact Novus Boost Superflow for the more challenging uphill stretches and the Kronos Kit Carbonio Flow for the long-haul flat rides, a more high-tech saddle specced for performing against the clock, but supremely comfortable at the same time. As we adopt quite an aggressive position most of the time, it is vital not to slip forwards on the saddle and Kronos’ non-slip surface helps us to keep us sitting properly when we are pressing hard down on the pedals.

 

The safety factor – apart from the helmet, what else should never be left to chance?

As far as safety goes, we place great reliance on our crew: There is a vehicle running behind us 24 hours a day which acts as a barrier between us and approaching cars. We use a two-way radio to communicate with our crew and obviously we are able to count on years of experience driving through the traffic.

It goes without saying that being able to depend on our bikes and the solidity of each single part of them, including the saddle, makes all the difference.

In addition to any spare parts we might need, we also have 3 mechanics in our crew who can deal with any emergencies.

 

Sport and solidarity: a great buzz comes from being able to provide the less fortunate with real help by simply doing what you love.

Absolutely. One of the best things about RAAM is that almost all the teams run for some charity project or other.

I try also to tackle the race as cheaply as possible so that as many funds as possible are then left for charity.

I think that sport is the ideal platform for solidarity and fundraising: athletes benefit from sponsorships in the form of cash and products, which serve to promote the sponsors. So why not support a charity project in the same way? It is a perfect way not only to give the association visibility, but you can also create a direct link between it and the sponsors.

This year, we chose the Pablove Foundation which fights childhood cancer – one of the most underfunded areas of research into tumours.

As a father, the mere thought of a child getting cancer is unbearable, so I think that Pablove does a marvellous job. It funds young researchers in the field with targeted scholarships.

Last year we already supported “Pablove Across America” – a charity race from Los Angeles to San Francisco – and now it would be fantastic if we could collect at least $50,000 to donate and provide one of these scholarships with complete funding.

Our relationship with Selle Italia is a perfect example of this and how well the system can work. We will be using their saddles on all our bikes customised with the logo of the sponsor and the charity organisation. So during the race, we will exploit our visibility to promote both partnerships and once the race is over, we will put some bicycles up for auction to collect additional funds.

Basically, all of this boils down to turning our sponsorship into a donation – creating a bridge between Selle Italia, the Team Bemer and all the kids who are helped by the Pablove Foundation.

I think this is the biggest victory of them all. As they say, it is a real win/win situation.

Selle Italia

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