Oxford stop of Race Across America bicycle event assists riders from around the world

Austrian Kurt Matzler (left) not only enjoyed a cold drink and talked over strategy with support team members but he ducked into one of their vans and took a short power nap before heading back out on the course of the Race Across America June 23. BOB RATTERMAN/CONTRIBUTED

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Austrian Kurt Matzler (left) not only enjoyed a cold drink and talked over strategy with support team members but he ducked into one of their vans and took a short power nap before heading back out on the course of the Race Across America June 23. BOB RATTERMAN/CONTRIBUTED

Bicycle riders in the cross-country Race Across America have been welcomed by Oxford volunteers here for many years. This year was no different as Timing Station 41 was again set up here last week.

Riders have multiple vehicles accompanying them on the arduous ride and those support team members are always welcomed with a cold drink and snacks while they wait for their riders to reach the station in the parking lot of T.J.Maxx on Locust Street. Not all riders stop at TS#41. Modern technology automatically records them passing the station and many simply breeze by, preferring to keep moving.

Some do, however, stop for that cold drink or snack or meet with crew members to review progress. Many riders are racing solo but there are also two-, four- and eight-person teams with many of them exchanging riders at the station so the one getting off the bike for a while can stop and talk for a few minutes and enjoy the cold drinks and snacks.

The race covers 3,078.6 miles from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland. Timing Station 41 stands at the 2,447.7-mile mark into the race.

It is truly an international event with riders from around the world taking part.

Armando Garcia was a member of the Bikers Without Borders team representing Brazil, although he is a resident of Florida. They came to timing Station 41 late in the afternoon June 24. It was a break for Garcia as he handed off the riding to a teammate after exchanging a quick word and a hug.

The 8-man team was riding to support Fraternity Without Borders, a humanitarian organization which operates in the poorest countries in the world feeding 15,000 children a month while also helping with housing, education, sanitation and health support.

“It has been a beautiful experience, especially the camaraderie within the team. Training helped form the team. We help each other. We are best friends from sharing the experience,” Garcia said. Heat was not a problem for him, after training in Florida but the ride had other weather challenges. “The weather was tough over the Rockies with altitude and low temperatures. The hot weather was pretty much what I was used to.”

Their team of 15 — riders and other support services — includes 10 Florida residents and five from Brazil. It was their first attempt at the Race Across America, although three of the riders have taken part in triathlons, Garcia said.

Forming the team was a long process.

“Three years ago, a friend came up with the idea. I always said, ‘No, no, no.’ Then, I said yes. We accomplished our goal, all of us as a team,” he said.

Organizers of the timing station made sure to have flags from each country represented in this year’s RAAM and riders were especially pleased to be welcomed by a volunteer waving the flag of their country.

Shortly after the Brazilian team arrived here, a rider from Norway’s Team Eurodrive went by without stopping, although reaching out to slap hands with a member of the support crew standing with local greeters, one carrying the Norwegian flag.

A day earlier, late in the afternoon, a solo rider from Austria came through but made a stop to consult with his team, take in a cold drink and settle in to one of their support vans for a short “power nap,” according to the team’s organizer, Bob McKenzie. The rider was Kurt Matzler this year but the Rotary Raams Polio team has been taking part in RAAM since 2015.

McKenzie, who lives in Virginia, got the group together seeking to use it as a fundraiser for the international Rotary Club’s effort to eradicate polio.

“We have done four as a team, three guys and a girl,” McKenzie said. “We set a record in 2018 and broke it again in 2019. Our mission is to help Rotary eliminate polio. We have raised $4 million, with $1.2 million this year. Rotary clubs all over the country have given us checks. Last year when we got to Annapolis we were interviewed and they said there are people here who want to give you something. Three from Rotary gave us a check for $5,000.”

McKenzie said Matzler has been a member of their team, but this year rode the Race Across America solo. Nine of their total crew are from Austria but he and wife live in Virginia and their son-in-law attended Ohio University as a graduate student.

McKenzie said the RAAM is a challenge but the thought of helping eradicate polio keeps them going.

“In 2017 in Maryland we were hit by the remnants of Hurricane Cindy. The crew (in the van) could only see the (bicycle) lights flashing it was so dense. You think about quitting, but kids with polio don’t get to quit and take a day off,” he said.

Within minutes, Matzler was back out on the road, pedaling toward Maryland.

Timing Station 41 had volunteers on hand around the clock for several days, some who had done duty in past years and some new to it.

One of those taking a role this year was Miami University kinesiology and nutrition professor Paul Reidy, putting in time there for the second year. He said he has been on the Miami faculty for four years and was asked immediately after arriving here to serve as advisor for the Miami Bicycle Club. He said he has never taken on a challenge like the Race Across America, but he did take part in a 237-mile bike ride from Muncie, Indiana to Kalamazoo, Michigan.

“It was not racing. There is just something to be said for seeing the country from the wheels of a bike,” he said.

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