On June 14 at 2 p.m., a two-man team of handcyclists named Ultra Handbike Duo cranked across the starting line in Oceanside, Calif. — headed for a finish line and a place in history in Annapolis, Md., 3,021 miles away. It was the start of the annual Race Across America, officially known as RAAM, the toughest endurance bicycling race in the world.
The rules of RAAM are simple — follow a predetermined course, and the first to cross the finish line in Annapolis wins. The cutoff time to complete the race is 9 days. One second late and you are a DNF — did not finish.
The members of Ultra Handbike Duo are Thomas Frühwirth, 33, from Austria, who holds the world record in the Ironman World Championships, and Manfred Putz, 45, from Germany, who is the 2007 world handcycling time trial champion. Both racers are paras. They are racing in stages: Each racer rides for four hours, then the next racer takes over.
In 2009, Team Can Be Venture, a four-man team made up of Vico Merklein, Patrick Doak, Carlos Moleda and Dr. Hannes Koepen, all paraplegic, became the first handcycle team to complete the race.
A two-person handcycle team has never completed RAAM. As of 3 p.m. Eastern time today, team Ultra Handbike Duo had covered 744.6 miles with an average speed of 15.87 mph. If they can keep up the pace, they are on track for setting a world speed record for handcyclists doing RAAM.