Prestigious bike race comes through Oxford

One of the toughest bicycle races in the world passed through a TJ Maxx parking lot this week in Oxford.

By the time riders competing in Race Across America (RAAM) arrived in Oxford, they had pedaled more than 2,400 miles. The cross-country bike race began June 12 in California.

This was the first year Mickey Simonds was in charge of the time stop in Oxford. She and many volunteers are members of Golden Tri, a biking group that started as training for the Zoom RedHawks Triathlon Festival.

“Biking was our focus,” Simonds said.

Although many members stopped competing in triathlons, Golden Tri continues to bike together. On Saturday mornings, a dozen or more Oxford riders meet up and pedal to Brookville or Camden for brunch.

The group also has a personal connection to Race Across America. One of the Golden Tri members, Lisa Brunckhorst, competed as part of a team in 2015. Brunckhorst also managed the time stop in Oxford for several years.

The ride from Oceanside, Calif. to Annapolis, Md., is a grueling one. The route is 30 percent longer than the Tour de France and gives riders half as much time to finish, according to the RAAM web site. Bikers have to ride non-stop for up to 12 days in order to finish the race. Riders can compete on their own or as a team of up to eight.

Rick Boethling, executive director of Race Across America, worked on the crew for his father when he competed in the race. He singled out this region of Ohio as one of the most supportive for competitors.

By 6 a.m. Thursday, the support crew for one of the racers, Thomas Haas, was set up along the tent.

Chris Guetl, media manager for the crew, said Haas was riding to raise money for Type 1 diabetes. Haas is trying to become the first diabetic to finish the race, Guetl said.

Many teams competing in RAAM use the competition as a fundraiser for charities. The race has raised more than $2 million for charities since it began in 1982. This year’s charities also include cancer research, handicap assistance, and the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes.

In addition to Guetl, the Austrian crew included doctors, mechanics, and a physical therapist. The car following him was ready to help with everything from snacks and water to major bike disasters.

“Basically, the crew does everything for the rider except pedal the bike,” Boethling said.

Oxford’s Mike Minium was another previous crew member for RAAM. He had driven behind Matt Bond, a rider from Dayton who competed in 1991 and 1992.

“I had to rest at motels or camp along the road,” Minium remembered. “You have to be ready immediately for anything.”

When the time stop was moved into Oxford in 2010, Minium began volunteering for the race. Earlier this week, he and another volunteer planted hundreds of signs along the RAAM route between Chillicothe and Greenfield, Ind. The signs help outline the path for the riders and warn cars to be more careful during the race.

At 10:20 a.m., Thomas Haas finally started approached the time stop. As he pedaled down Locust Street, the volunteers sprung into action. They cheered for Haas, rang cowbells, and waved the Austrian flag. His was one of five flags they waved for riders on Thursday, along with the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Spain.

Haas’ crew had planned for him to stop in Oxford and get two hours of sleep before continuing the race. But when he started riding down the street later that morning, he didn’t pull into the lot. After waving at the five cheering volunteers, he turned right onto Spring Street and headed east toward Ohio 73 and the next checkpoint.

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