Thirteen years after an Indian participated for the first time in the solo category of one of the world’s toughest bicycle races, Navi Mumbai-based Kabir Rachure registered his third successful finish at theRace Across America (RAAM) on Saturday with a second place in his age bracket to boot.
“Finishing RAAM itself is a Herculean task,” Bharat Pannu, a leading ultra-cyclist in India and a RAAM aspirant, said on Rachure’s performance and how it would be a benchmark for those set to follow.
On Sunday, two more Indian cyclists — Amit Samarth and Srinivas Gokulnath — registered their second successful completion of RAAM. Rachure finished on the 10th day (10 days, 19 hours, 21 minutes) from race commencement, a long-coveted goal among Indian aspirants. Amit completed in 11 days, four hours and 38 minutes; Srinivas in 11 days, six hours.
At the time of writing, the race results were provisional.
According to some of those tracking the RAAM from India, there was an incidence of forest fire due to which participants were advised to travel in vehicles between two time stations. There appear to have been two notes to participants in this regard while the race was on.
In their first communique, the organisers informed that solo riders may see time adjustment of nine hours post-race. Later, a note on June 22, while not mentioning nine hours, said (among other things), “cut offs remain as they are in the rules and this adjustment taken after the fact will not affect your official finish status but will affect your final speeds and race data.’’ It added that until the final adjustment is made, “all awards and records will be provisional.”
According to this note, the shuttle of 165.44 km between time-stations 8 and 9 reduced this year’s course length to 4721.96 km.The RAAM normally spans a little over 4800km, from the west coast of the US to its east. Its usual course is from Oceanside in California to Annapolis in Maryland. The event operates like a single-stage race, meaning the clock starts ticking once the cycling commences and it is up to the rider and his/ her support crew to decide how the journey — including sleep time therein — should be managed.
Over its length, the RAAM exposes the cyclist to high mountains, arid lands, prairies, cold, heat, windy conditions and thunderstorms.
The cut-off time to complete RAAM solo is 12 days. The fastest completion of RAAM to date is by the Austrian ultra-cyclist and winner of RAAM multiple times, Christoph Strasser — seven days, 15 hours and 56 minutes.
India’s tryst with the solo category at RAAM began in 2010 when Samim Rizvi, originally from Mumbai and who later shifted to Bangalore, decided to participate. According to him, he was the first Indian and the third Asian to qualify for the event. That qualification in times preceding events to qualify for RAAM in India, was done on a loop at Nandi Hills, Bangalore.
Given the travel to the US, accommodation ahead of the race, support crew, vehicles for crew to accompany cyclists right across the US, performance bicycles, spare parts and the long preparation that goes into readying for the race, the RAAM is an expensive affair. IT company, Cisco, helped Samim assemble the required funds.
His debut at RAAM ended in a mishap. Returning for the 2011 edition, Samim completed the gruelling race unfortunately “just outside the 12-day cut-off’’ but good enough for him to merit a permanent bib number and be free of qualifying afresh to participate. Samim would participate again in 2013 and 2017 but he stayed unable to complete it officially.
In 2015, the Mahajan brothers — Hitendra and Mahendra — from Nashik, competing in the team category, finished RAAM successfully. Notwithstanding Samim’s misfortune, 2017 proved to be an important year for India at RAAM.
At the start line of the race in Oceanside, California, besides Samim were Srinivas Gokulnath, hailing from Bangalore and at that time an Army doctor posted in Nashik and Amit Samarth, a doctor from Nagpur.
In 2017, Srinivas became the first Indian to complete the RAAM in the solo category. He took 11 days, 18 hours and 45 minutes. Amit followed Srinivas to the finish line in 11 days and 21 hours, giving India two solo finishers.
A cyclist and triathlete, Amit became the first Indian to complete the RAAM solo, in his first attempt. In 2018 competing in the 9000 km-long Trans-Siberian Extreme, he was placed fourth overall.
Back to the RAAM, things started changing again with Rachure, a lawyer from Navi Mumbai, entering the frame. In 2016, participating in the year’s 646 km-long Deccan Cliffhanger (an endurance cycling event in India) to qualify, Rachure had missed the mark by 28 minutes.
It left him disappointed. But at DC, he met Samim and the latter helped Rachure get more information about RAAM. Given RAAM is a composite of cyclist and support crew, many Indians participating in the event first familiarise themselves with being support crew, including at RAAM.
Rachure was part of Samim’s support crew in his 2017 attempt. That year, with a third place secured in DC, Rachure got his RAAM qualification. He qualified a second time when he placed second in the year’s edition of the 1750 km-long Ultra Spice, another endurance cycling event in India.
He moved through a couple of more such races including one in Ladakh in 2018 (which he won) before landing up in the US for the 2019 RAAM. In June 2019, Kabir completed RAAM in 11 days, 22 hours and 43 minutes.
In the ensuing months, the pandemic brought the sport to a grinding halt. In June 2020, a virtual RAAM was held with cyclists on home trainers worldwide.
Army officer Bharat Pannu finished third in this event. When the pandemic eased and the RAAM returned in its physical form in 2022, Rachure went back to the US and completed the race in 11 days, 11 hours and 25 minutes.
Most importantly, he was placed third in his age category; the first podium finish by an Indian in the RAAM’s solo segment.
In July 2022, during a recollection of his RAAM experience, he said: “I feel I have unlocked myself in some way.” Saturday’s finish improved his podium position from 2022’s third, in the male under-50 age category, to second.