Irish elite endurance cyclist Joe Barr has won his category (age 60-69) at RAAM (Race Across America). He completed over 3000 grueling miles (5000 kilometres) in just 11 days, 16 hours and 12 minutes, with the support of his dedicated crew. RAAM is known as the world’s toughest endurance cycling race but this year proved to be one of the most difficult years yet, with extreme weather conditions having a huge impact.
According to Barr, the race took every ounce of effort he had. “At times, I wondered if I could muster up the strength for even one more mile. I had to use all my resources to keep moving forward and to keep the pedals spinning. Crucial to that was the support I had from the team, and also from the messages and well wishes from thousands of supporters from home who followed the race via social media.”
Barr and his fellow racers rode non-stop from the west coast to the east coast across the Great Plains and over three major mountain ranges (Sierra, Rocky and Appalachian). There were no rest days, no stages, no drafting and very little sleep along the way.
Altitude and heat played a major part throughout the race with extreme fluctuations compounding the impact of sleep deprivation. In the early part of the race Barr faced temperatures of over 45 degrees in California and Alabama. Barr and his team used a mixture of strategies to successfully keep his core temperature down, such as ice vests and slushies, to keep him moving forward.
Within hours of crossing the desert he was tackling the other extreme of bitter cold on high altitude climbs in the Rockies, such as Wolf Creek Pass. At nearly 11,000ft, it is the highest climb of the race. Conquering this particular climb was a significant moment for Barr. In 2012, in his first attempt at RAAM, he succumbed to severe altitude sickness on Wolf Creek Pass, which cost him the race and almost cost him his life.
Once through the Rockies, the long flat plains of Kansas proved even more challenging with strong headwinds and extreme fatigue setting in after days of non-stop cycling. As a slight rider in terms of height and weight, Barr was particularly susceptible to strong headwinds and this took a tough toll both physically and mentally. As the elements of the race continued to stack up against him, he had to dig deep to access mental and physical reserves to keep going.
In the steep rolling hills of Virginia, Barr, a natural climber, was back in his element but he still had to conquer the Eastern Appalachian mountains before the end. In the last 24 hours of the race, sleep deprivation became an almost insurmountable challenge, making every pedal stroke a struggle and each mile towards the finish line was hard won. Ultimately though, after over 11 days on the road, he won his category convincingly, claiming victory over 200 miles ahead of his nearest category rival, former World Champion Valerio Zamboni.
Crossing the line Barr was mindful that his was a team victory. While he turned the pedals, the small army of people on his team were essential in getting him to that finish line. Throughout the race, he was fuelled, watched, guided and coached from coast to coast as his body and mind faced the extreme challenges of the race. Winning his category was the ultimate birthday present for Barr, who turned 60 on day 2 of the race.