When one of the cyclists competing in Shivalik Signature, one of the India qualifiers for the Race Across America (RAAM), asked its CEO Fred Boethling, 70, about ultra-cycling events, he pedalled around the parking of Lake Club Sports Complex and said, “It’s all about finding a balance between fitness and mental discipline.”
As a cancer survivor and two-time RAAM finisher, a feat which saw him cycling from East Coast to West Coast in USA for more than 4,800 Kilometers in 12 days, Boethling knows a lot about ultra-cycling.
“I was into cycling in 1960s and later left the sport. In 1998, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and that’s when I realised I am not going to live forever (laughs). So I got back to cycling and one of my goals was to finish Race Across America. I first officiated in the event in 2004 before competing in the two-person team in 2005. In 2006, I competed and finished the race in the +60 category and set a new record. When you compete in RAAM, one moment that remains with most riders is the feeling of giving it up before the last 100 miles. As you get to the finish line, you think about crashing down, and then you start again. Crossing the finish line after so many days is the biggest reward,” shared Boethling, who is in Chandigarh to officiate in the India qualifier for RAAM.
It was in 1982, that the first edition of RAAM was held in the US, where four cyclists cycled from Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles to New York. The last 38 editions of the ultra-cycling event have seen cyclists from more than 25 countries taking part in the multi-day event.
The event, which sees cyclists racing for more than 4800 kilometers across 12 states in the US and crossing four time zones, is over 30 percent longer than the Tour de France with the riders needing to complete the race in 12 days.
In 2006, Boethling, who is an engineer and owner of a truck trailer business, bought the rights of RAAM. “The concept of ultra-cycling has grown all these years. One has to understand that ultra-cycling is difficult since it’s not a very big sport. But then you don’t need to be the fastest cyclist in the world. You need physical fitness and mental discipline to compete in races like RAAM. When RAAM started, there were less than a dozen qualifiers happening across the world. Now there are more than 50 qualifying events across 18 countries. This year, we will also see a qualifier in Japan. Last weekend in the RAAM qualifier in Texas, the top finisher was a woman. In the last decade, more than 20 percent of the riders are women. Here in India, you have got riders like Saran Preeti, who is one of the organisers of RAAM qualifiers.”
With more than four RAAM qualifiers happening in India, the last three years have seen Indian cyclists too finishing RAAM. In 2015, Dr. Hitendra Mahajan and his brother Mahendra Mahajan completed the race in a team of two before Srinivas Gokulnath became the first Indian to complete the RAAM in the solo category in 2017.
“The main aim of this race is to face diverse challenges. In USA, one starts from the Pacific coast before passing through the desert and then mountain ranges. You have got all these features in India with a coastline in south, desert in the central part and very high mountains in the north. While there is not one race, which combines all these challenges, the regional qualifiers can help the sport grow in India,” says Boethling.
The former cyclist also finds Chandigarh a city suited for cycling. “Chandigarh has got cycling tracks and hills nearby. People here can take up cycling as a leisure activity before they dream about competing in ultra-cycling,” concludes Boethling.