Is this the hardest race in the world?

Think the Tour de France sounds hard? Check out this bike race across America.
Gerhard Gulewicz cycling during the training for the Race Across America 2013.
Desert temps often reach 50º C © Gerhard Gulewicz
By Josh Sampiero

There's plenty of ways to 'race across America' – the infamous (and highly illegal) 'Cannonball Run', for instance, is a non-stop drive from New York to Santa Monica Pier in California. But there's no question that the most physically difficult way to do it is the way Austrian biker Gerhard Gulewicz is about to attempt – for the ninth time!

Gerhard Gulewicz cycling through the desert during the Race Across America.
The Race Across America, 2013 © Peter Maurer

Tell us about the 'Race Across America'.
It's one of the most gruelling events in the world. About 3,000 miles (4,828km) from Oceanside, in Southern California, to New York City. There are four-man teams, eight-man teams, and solo riders like myself, with over 400 people participating in total.

How'd you find it?
I won the world 24-hour long-distance mountain biking champion, then started looking for longer races – and I found the Race Across America. I did my first one in 2006, and I've done it every year since then.

Gerhard Gulewicz posing for a portrait before the race starts.
Gerhard Gulewicz in front of his support car © Peter Maurer

What makes it different?
Well, like other big bike races, there's flat sections, hills, and mountain ranges. Unlike, say, the Tour de France, there are no stages or daily segments – it's just a race.

No stages? So you just... go?
I'll start by pedaling about 40 hours before I take the first rest. After that, it's sleep for an hour, pedal for 24, sleep for an hour, pedal for 24... All together, I'll sleep about seven hours.

Seven hours.
Yes. I'll have a support car – it must stay behind me at all times – with three people. A navigator, a doctor, and support person. They provide me with food and drink. I'll have a special energy food designed for long-distance races – electrolytes and carbohydrates – and I'll be consuming about 800 calories an hour. I'll drink about one litre of water an hour in the hot spots.

Gerhard Gulewicz fighting against the heat © Gerhard Gulewicz

What's your daily goal?
My goal is to cover 600km in 24 hours – averaged out over the course of the race. You'll be faster the first 24 hours than the last 24 hours! The race is getting faster year after year.

And your ultimate goal?
I'd love to win. I've also changed a lot of things in my training to be faster. I've lost a lot of body weight, more than 10kg since last year at this time. My body weight is just 63kg, and I've changed a lot of technical things. My best finish so far is second twice and third twice.

Gerhard Gulewicz and his team posing for a portrait before the race starts.
Gerhard Gulewicz and his support team © Peter Maurer

The biggest challenge?
Over 3,000 miles, anything can happen – so a lot of it is the weather. Temperatures will vary – from below freezing in the mountains to potentially 50º C in the deserts – but we're prepared for that. But seven days of headwind or seven days of tailwind can make a huge difference. And maybe you'll have to outrun a thunderstorm or even a tornado.

No more questions. Good luck!
The most important thing is to see the finish! If you're fast, you can be on the podium. If everything is perfect, I'll go fast!

The race started Tuesday, June 10th. Get updates on the race here, or follow Gerhard on Facebook!

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