Is This Bike Race Harder Than the Tour de France?

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 do it – the Race Across America.

Race Across America, which began June 10, is a 3,000-mile bike ride from Oceanside, California, to New York City. "It's one of the most grueling events in the world," says Gulewicz. "There are four-man teams, eight-man teams, and solo riders like myself, with over 400 people participating in total." Sound challenging? Believe it or not, but Gulewicz is taking it on for the ninth time. We spoke to him ahead of the competition.

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

How'd you find Race Across America?

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.

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.

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

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 [around 372 miles] 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 [138 pounds], 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 [122 degrees F] 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!

Get updates on the race at the Race Across America Facebook page, or follow Gerhard on Facebook

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