Most road races last between two and five hours, though some of the bigger Continental events may be seven or even eight hours long. Comparted to most sports, all cycling events are real endurance activities, but within cycling itself, eight hours is 'just a day's ride'.
Link some of these races together, day after day, and you have a stage race, like the Tour de France. There are two other big three week Tours for professional riders - in Spain (Vuelta a Espana) and Italy (Giro d'Itlia). These are such marathon events that very few riders manage two, let alone three of them in one season. Most concentrate on just one and have a host of shorter races, ranging from a single day to about ten days, to build up their strength and stamina to cope with these.
Apart from suitable preparation, the key aspect to managing such events is recovery.
Another form of endurance event is the 12-hour and 24-hour time trial. In these events, riders must cycle alone, without the shelter and advantage of a big bunch or 'peloton' of riders. The aim is to cover as much distance as possible in the time. Those seeking 'a performance' will have a support crew to hand up food and drink at regular intervals so they don't lose any time stopping to eat, or weigh themselves down with provisions.
In a 24-hour race, the leading riders will stop twice, just briefly, to fix lights to their bike and don extra clothes for the cool of the night and then again in the early morning to shed those lights and clothes. 'Time is miles' and there's no progress being made if the rider is stopped by the roadside having a picnic!
For a real endurance event, the ultimate has to be the Race Across AMerica (RAAM - yes, the capital M is intentional). In 1993 it was a panel of experts commissioned by America's Outside magazine voted it as the toughest event in the world using such criteria as:
- Mule Factor - the distances involved
- Forum - how tough the course is
- Anguish Index - how hard the competitors 'have to work to convince themselves that what they're doing is only mildly inane and self-destructive'
- 'O' Factor - a combination of the cost to do the event and the drop out rate.
RAAM came out ahead of of challenges such as: the Vendee Globe Round the World Yacht Race , Iditarod Sled Race, Raid Gauloises Wilderness Competition and the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon.
RAAM is a mass-start time trial. Starting on the west coast of the USA (the course varies from year to year) and traversing the country, the clock doesn't stop until the rider crosses the finish line on the east coast. For the last two years this has been from Portland, Oregon to Pensacola, Florida, via the Colorado and the Rockies.
More people have travelled in space than have completed RAAM
'If it was easy, then everyone would do it' so said Lon Haldeman, a former RAAM winner, trans-America record holder and now RAAM race director. Riders survive on no more than three hours sleep per night and the top performers cross the continent in under ten days - averaging over 300 miles per day. It's hardly surprising then, that more people have travelled in space than have completed RAAM.