Through the wind, up the hills
Vail CO, Colorado
Beaver Creek – Team Catlin a force once again in Race Across America
There’s no manual on how to celebrate after winning a non-stop cross-coutry bike race.
But the boys from Beaver Creek, perennial champions of the Race Across America, know how to embrace the Atlantic Ocean.
“We went to the beach and had our usual body surfing world championships,” said Jimi Mortenson, part of the four-man winning squad Beaver Creek – Team Catlin in this year’s RAAM.
Monday at around 10 a.m., Mortenson, Mike Janelle, Nat Ross and Zach Bingham crossed the finish line in 5 hours, 18 hours and 22 minutes to claim their second consecutive championship.
This year’s 3,044-mile race proved to be a lot closer than last year’s for Beaver Creek (In 2006, Beaver Creek bested all teams, including an eight-man squad). Team Psycho, a first year squad, nipped at Beaver Creek’s heels through the Midwest.
“For three days in a row it was between a minute,” Janelle said. “They’d get close, and we had to go so hard (to keep the lead). It was crazy.”
In the late stages of the race, thanks to some mountain climbs, Beaver Creek pulled away to earn a 3 hour, 26 minute win over Team Psycho.
After taking their crew out to dinner, Beaver Creek went to watch some video of the race then passed out ” for more than half a day.
“I slept 15 hours,” Janelle said, noting that it was about the amount he’d slept the entire race.
Tuesday, with the team and support crew en route back west, the racers took turns driving the RV, and sleeping.
For even the most seasoned RAAM veterans, there’s just about nothing you can do to prepare for what is an amazing human feat.
“It would be almost stupid to,” Janelle said.
During the race, Beaver Creek split into two teams ” Janelle and Ross; Mortenson and Bingham ” and switched on and off for about three to three-and-a-half hours during the day. At night, the two teams split up the darkness, each going for five hours.
When the pair were “on duty” they rotated pedaling hard for about five miles.
“You feel like throwing up all the time,” Bingham said. “When you’re riding, you don’t talk to anyone. You put in as much effort as you can. You ride like it’s your last five miles.”
After their shift, the team members went back to the RV, ate, got massages and sleep. Experience paid off, physically and mentally.
“We all know our bodies and know our race and that we can recover better,” Janelle said. “We know we can go as hard as we can all the time and can recover, where other teams may be a little scared to put it out there.”
Riding so hard for so long gives bikers a different kind of soreness. They may be sore the first few days, but their bodies accustom to it. A few days after the race, they are still feeling some fatigue, however.
“The first year I did it, I didn’t sleep at all the fist night,” Ross said. “It destroyed my riding for the rest of June.”
This year, Ross played it a bit smarter, but still predicts he’ll be feeling the race for a while.
“I don’t snore and Mike doesn’t snore, but we’ll be snoring for the next two weeks,” Ross said.
Shortly after talking about his future snoring, Ross was fast asleep in the RV.
The four riders are less than a quarter of the total group of Beaver Creek – Team Catlin that goes from coast to coast. (In the past, the team was known at Beaver Creek-Vail, but Catlin hopped on as a title sponsor this year.)
Alex Yellen was the team’s crew director, managing all 15 people helping the riders.
“He was an NBC flimer and got assigned to us (years ago), and all of a sudden we had him working for us,” Bingham said.
Along with an RV, the team had two vans and tons of equipment, including a high-definition camera. This year, the team taped a good chunk of the ride and will combined footage from years past to make a DVD of the race. They’re excited about when they’ll debut the film, as they’ll get a chance to share their experiences with all those who have supported them, and get to see what happened when they were sleeping.
While each year has brought a new set of memories, this time brought in a new record. Mortenson became the first RAAM rider to pull in four wins. Ross and Janelle are at three, while Bingham ” the logistics planner who took over for past planner and racer Adam Palmer ” has two.
What may be even more impressive than the number of wins is that the Beaver Creek legacy in a more than 3000-mile bike race is filled with guys who ride mountain bikes.
“I think as far as what mountain biking has to do with it, we just really have fun riding our bikes and that helps a lot,” Mortenson said. “The other team we were going against were really, really fit athletes and they were pretty experienced time trial racers, which helped them a lot on the flat roads in Kansas and they caught up.
“They were bigger and heavier … we were talking about how our guys are 150 pound and it’s like throwing a whiffle ball into the wind. The other guys were stockier and heavier, and it was like throwing a golf ball into the wind.”
But the mountain bikers had a big advantage when it came to switching riders.
“We like to carry all of our momentum down the road into the next person,” Bingham said. “Some were afraid to have that much contact.”
And the lighter Beaver Creek – Team Catlin squad also moved away from the competition on the hill climbs.
“It was 2,8000 miles of flats for the mountains,” Bingham joked.
One record this year’s team hoped to break was the overall time and speed record. Because of early headwinds, they knew it would be nearly impossible to break the record.
“It was disappointing to look at your average speed coming into Colorado, and know you were already too far behind,” Ross said.
Still, the weather was favorable for the most part, with only a little rain and some high temperatures through the desert, and the bikers had very little to complain about.
“You run though areas like (tornado-ravaged) Greensville, Kansas and you realize how lucky you are to still be riding on a bike,” Ross said
And the team, which lost rider Brett Malin during the race in 2003 when he was hit by a semitruck, made sure to keep alive the memory of their fallen friend.
“We have all these 425 stickers we made,” Mortenson said. “That’s been our team number ever since. Whenever we do a transition on the road, we put a 425 sticker on the guardrail. We’ve got some places where there are stickers on top of each other … each year, whenever we see one, it brings back all those memories.”
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or email@example.com.
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