Mountains

Race Across Cortez

Journal/Bobby Abplanalp

Mike Francisco stands outside the Journal on Thursday evening. He will volunteer as the Race Across America time station coordinator for Cortez. It is Francisco’s seventh year doing so. The time station is located at the northeast corner of the Walmart parking lot. RAAM is the longest endurance bicycle race in the world. It spans from California to Maryland.

By Bobby Abplanalp Journal staff writer

A distance of more than 3,000 miles, traveling through 12 states, an elevation gain from 170 feet below sea level to above 10,000 feet, consuming three gallons of fluid and 8,000 calories a day.

Who would actually do this?

For the past 30 years, endurance bicyclists from five continents and 25 countries have tested their strength and will continue to do so. In what is billed as the “world’s toughest bicycle race,” thousands of people try this daunting task and fail. The solo racers who conquer this journey in the 12 days allowed simply can’t be anything short of amazing.

Starting in Oceanside, Calif., and finishing in Annapolis Md., that is the Race Across America (RAAM).

The solo women’s class began Tuesday and the solo men started Wednesday, while racing teams left Oceanside today.

Racers will soon be passing through Cortez along U.S. Highway 160, which has been part of the main route for several years.

A Dolores resident and Montezuma County native, Mike Francisco, will be manning the RAAM Cortez time station for the seventh consecutive year.

A time station is where racers report their time and location by calling RAAM headquarters. Results are recorded on the RAAM website (www.raceacrossamerica.org), so people can track the racers live online.

The people in charge of the time station, who do it as volunteers, cheer the racers on and give them information of where services are located in town.

Cortez is a significant time station.

“Cortez is pretty vital. We’re the next major supply center for them,” Francisco said. “Once they leave Flagstaff (Ariz.), we’re the next major city. In between there is mostly desert.”

Francisco, 51, sets up a canopy in the northeast corner of the Walmart parking lot. A time clock is present and is set on eastern time zone. There are 53 time stations on the cross-country race route.

Cortez’ time station location accommodates the racers and their travel crews who need to shop at Walmart. Plus, people can come help cheer the biking fanatics to the finish line.

“It’s a perfect time to see endurance athletes that are from all over the world,” Francisco said. “It’s a time where you can see a major bike race. It’s a good opportunity for anybody to stop by and see how a major bike race is run. I think we are pretty fortunate to have Race Across America come through here.”

Volunteers are always welcome, as racers enter Cortez around the clock. Francisco says he averages 15 volunteers for his time station.

“We make it work,” he said. “But, we can always use more volunteers.”

Why does Francisco, a physical therapist, donate his time every year to Race Across America?

His sister-in-law, Diana Wilson, works with now RAAM President Fred Boethling, who rode solo male and finished in 2006. But Boethling, of Boulder, where RAAM is headquartered, needed some help that year.

He got it.

“He (Boethling) needed another crew member. My sister-in-law mentioned me,” Francisco said. “He called me up and asked me if I’d be on their crew for that year. That’s how I got involved.”

Boethling was 61 at the time and his body was giving out. In times of emergency, someone on a racer’s travel crew must provide medical attention.

Good thing Francisco is a MPT.

“He (Boethling) said he couldn’t have made it without me,” said Francisco with a light laugh. “He ended up having to have some wound care done. Without that wound care being done through the race, he said he wouldn’t have made it. It was just too much for him.”

That experience was a rewarding one for Francisco and he has been volunteering for RAAM ever since.

Whenever the wind isn’t blowing his canopy over, you can see Francisco cheering on the competitors of perhaps his favorite sport.

Francisco is no stranger to endurance bike racing. He has completed in the Durango Iron Horse race multiple times, as well as finishing the 105-mile Tour of Tucson (Ariz.).

Francisco, along with his wife Ruth, will continue to be involved in Race Across America. It’s what he loves. But the opportunity to be on a travel crew elsewhere with his sister-in-law may present itself.

Francisco will man the Cortez time station as much as he can in the future.

However, he’s always looking for new volunteers.

Reach Bobby Abplanalp at bobbya@cortezjournal.com.

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