Earlier this month I took another swing at qualifying for Race Across America. I was in good shape, had an awesome team with Mike and Tommy Hughes flying in and a solid traveling companion in Jackson Mauzé.
In a massive boost to the readability of this site, Jackson has written the following recap:
André’s journey to Race Across America (RAAM) faced its toughest hurdle yet this past weekend when he traveled to Borrego Springs, CA to compete in the Time Trial Championship. To qualify for RAAM the threshold is an astonishing 400 miles in 24 hours. If he was intimidated at the prospect of circling the same 18-mile course through the deep of night and heat of the arid day, he masked it under a hefty mantle of optimism and self-deprecation.
In fact, the ride inland from San Diego was a surreal insight into André’s character. Soon after setting out from San Diego we left the large interstates behind and began snaking into the mountains. We cracked jokes and mused about careers and art and life as our ears began to pop. Only as we descended the Glass Elevator, the infamous scenic road that winds down to Borrego Springs, did we stop to appreciate our surroundings. Where many endurance athletes can become consumed by love for their hobby, by stress for their challenges or even by a self-absorption from so many hours spent reclusively on the bike, André tackles each race with a refreshingly casual determination. For a 37-year old with the energy of a kid, he’s decidedly professional in his regimen and preparation without the swollen ego that could plague such an incredible athlete.
Then again, what “professional” sets off from the start line of a bike race without sunglasses?
Aside from that minor gaffe, quickly remedied, the race started well. Andre set a strong pace from the beginning, averaging under an hour for each loop. Then at 4 AM, nearing the end of a cold night that saw several riders beginning to bonk out, the aluminum frame of his bike snapped in spectacular fashion. After picking up speed on a shallow slope he hit the flat and his bike bottomed out with a BANG, hand crank breaking off in his hands along with the front wheel He skidded into the dirt as G-forces flung him about, only held in his seat by the belt across his lap.
The damage was irreparable, and due to the time-trial regulations, he actually forfeited the 16 miles he’d completed on that loop when an official had to pick him up and bring him back to the pits. He was tired and dirty, his hands bleeding from minor cuts as his crew worked to prepare his rusting back-up bike. But he still he was smiling.
When someone pointed that out as a silver lining, his response (with a grin) was classic: “I’m not gonna be smiling after a lap on this bike.”
The back-up handcycle was old and didn’t fit well, the metal bars squeezing his hips painfully. But after only half an hour in the pit he was out and cranking once more. His lap times saw a small drop but he dug deep and never quit, even as the night began playing its tricks. Andre insists he saw an old woman with curly hair in someone else’s headlight ahead of him. She was walking down the road in the black of night – which somehow didn’t seem odd to his befuddled brain at the time – with what appeared to be two miniature greyhounds on leashes. When his own headlight lit up the same area she was nowhere to be found.
As the sun rose over the mountains he kept his pace steady. He rarely stopped, only doing so to eat real food for a change or chat quickly with fans and friends. When his shifter cable snapped, sticking him in his heaviest gear for the rest of the race, he cracked a joke about it during his next pit stop before tearing back onto the course. His final lap on the big course (before switching to the mandatory four-mile loop at the end) was his fastest in the preceding four hours. But he wasn’t done yet.
As we drew inexorably toward 6 PM, the temperature only just dropping from where it had sat in the low nineties for several hours, Andre started his final lap with only sixteen minutes left, knowing full well that if he didn’t finish in time, those four miles would be forfeit. We all waited anxiously as the announcer counted down the time remaining. Three minutes. Two minutes. One. Thirty seconds. Twenty.
With less than ten seconds left Andre whipped around the last bend, head down and cranking furiously. The crowd came alive as he pulled across the finish line with only seconds to spare – the last racer to finish.
In the end, Andre did not qualify for RAAM this weekend. At an official 343 miles he was short of the target, but nothing could dampen his mood. If not for the major bike malfunctions? If not for the lost mileage thanks to his breakdown? He was on pace to qualify. And this wasn’t his last opportunity before RAAM rolls around this summer. The same grit and determination that got him through the grueling race this past weekend will get him to the starting line. It’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “how.”