TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
June 22, 1997
By Lynne Tolman
The cyclists in the Race Across America aren't the only ones who are sleep-deprived. Riders in the 2,950-mile ultramarathon contest depend on support crews who follow them in vans and motor homes and provide directions, food, massages, mechanical assistance, encouragement and whatever else is needed to keep the biker going for eight to 10 days and nights.
When veteran RAAM rider Ed Kross of Framingham took some rookie crew members on a 25-hour ride last weekend -- he pedaled, they drove, 366 miles -- no one got much sleep. Kross napped for about 20 minutes at one point in Vermont, and the crew members slept only about two hours.
"It was pretty much a reality check," said crew chief Tony Fedirkow of Fitchburg, where the three-state shakedown tour began Saturday morning. Fedirkow, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell this spring with a degree in exercise physiology, volunteered for a RAAM crew last year to get experience related to his major and is happy to be helping the local contender this year.
Kross, 38, an electrical engineer, was the top rookie finisher in the 1992 RAAM and placed seventh in the men's division in 1994 with a time of nine days, 14 hours, 19 minutes. His plan to do the race last year was derailed after his bike was stolen and his preparation lagged, but this year there's nothing stopping him. The race starts July 24 in Irvine, Calif., and the finish line is in Savannah, Ga.
Last weekend's trip was an ultramarathon baptism for four rookie members of Kross' nine-person crew: Diane Tower of Hudson, a nurse; Fedirkow's best friend, Ray Fors of Fitchburg; Fors' fiancee, Becky Christian of Fitchburg, a massage therapist; and massage therapist Maureen Tokarz of Suffield, Conn. The RAAM crew also will include Kross' father, Vic Kross of Framingham; bike racer and mechanic Mark McMaster of Burlington, and a couple of players to be named later.
"We were all nervous, especially driving," said Tower, a racer who has backed off from competing this year because of asthma. "But by the end of each shift, everybody's confidence really improved."
Crew members took turns on two-hour shifts as minivan driver or navigator and feeder, while the others followed in another vehicle. The van stays very close to the cyclist and pulls alongside him for the navigator to hand over food or clothing from the passenger side.
Kross and the driver use walkie-talkie headsets to communicate, and the crew also has cellular phones, a pager and CB radios. But all the equipment has range limits, and it's crucial for everyone to know when and where they'll have their next rendezvous -- for the cyclist to get in the vehicle for a meal, massage, sleep and bike maintenance, and for the crew to switch drivers and exchange information.
"There's always the unexpected happening, and you have to be able to react to that," said Fedirkow, a collegiate racer who joined Jeff Bell's crew last year after Kross decided not to enter the race. For example, Bell's RV lost its generator during the race, and the crew scrambled to arrange repairs at a camping store ahead on the race route.
"We got it fixed in four hours, and the rider never knew anything about it," Fedirkow said. "If the crew can handle it, there's no need for the rider to know about certain mishaps."
One thing the crew learned last weekend was the importance of keeping everything in the van organized, Kross said. The driving in New England can be harrowing, he said, but the race route will be easier, with wider roads and little traffic.
Last weekend's ride also was a chance for Kross to experiment with his diet. He's experienced bloating on long rides and is still looking for a solution to the problem. It was the medical angle that piqued nurse Tower's interest in the RAAM endeavor.
Christian said she signed on "just to be out there and experience it ... To get to work with someone like Ed who's so dedicated is incredible."
It's the crew's dedication that makes all the difference, Kross said. "My job is the easiest. I have just one job. Everyone else has to be able to do everybody else's job."
The U.S. Postal Service cycling team was selected last week as one of six "wild card" teams -- and the only U.S.-based squad -- to compete with the world's 16 top-ranked teams in the Tour de France. Massachusetts native Tyler Hamilton is on the team's nine-man roster for the Tour, director sportif Johnny Weltz told VeloNews.
The team's final preparation includes the four-stage Route du Sud, under way in France, and European national championship road races next Sunday. The Tour de France begins July 5.
Frank McCormack (Saturn) of Leicester was ninth over the finish line last Sunday in the 156-mile CoreStates USPRO Championship in Philadelphia. But he was very close, without knowing it, to winning the national road race title. George Hincapie (U.S. Postal Service), finishing third, was the first American across the line but was disqualified for drafting a team car after a wheel change. That left the U.S. title to Bart Bowen (Saturn), who finished just ahead of McCormack in a sprinting pack 11 seconds behind winner Massimiliano Lelli (Saeco-Cannondale) of Italy.
"I sat up. I stopped sprinting with 150 yards to go," McCormack told The Ride Magazine. "Bart rode his heart out today. He deserved it."
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