Mumbai cyclist prepares to race across the United States

Published: Nov 09, 2013, 07:34 IST | Fatema Pittalwala |

Mumbaikar Sumit Patil, the third Indian to qualify for the gruelling trans-American cycling event, Race Across America (raam), aims to be the first Indian to cross the finish line

Tour de France is the perfect example of endurance cycling in the world, but there are other endurance cycling events equally demanding and gruelling. Amongst many, Race Across America (RAAM) is said to be the toughest cycling race in history. Being only the third Indian to qualify for the race, 28-year-old cyclist Sumit Patil is hoping to cross the finish line as the winner. The Prabhadevi boy lives his dream every minute, and is leveraging his army-like discipline and positive attitude to life towards achieving it.

For training, Sumit Patil cycles across Mumbai at 5 am to avoid traffic rush. Pic/Bipin Kokate

“RAAM is the toughest cycling race in the world. It grills you mentally and physically. For qualifying, I cycled 601 km with just 20 minutes of sleep!” says Patil, a trained mountaineer himself. RAAM is notorious for making the Tour de France look like “relaxing by the countryside,” says Patil. In RAAM, the cyclist is expected to cover 5000 km across America non-stop, including answering nature’s call and catching up on sleep, in just 12 days, whereas the Tour de France requires one to complete the race in 21 days, including hotel stays, breakfasts and spa treatments. Patil is preparing for the 2014 edition of the race, which starts on June 10.

The route map of the 2014 edition of RAAM, which starts at Oceanside California and finishes at Annapolis, Maryland. Illustration/Amit Bandre

According to Patil, even people who have scaled Mount Everest have failed to finish RAAM. “The key to winning anything is time management. Samim Rizvi, the first Indian to qualify for RAAM, attempted the race thrice but has not yet completed it. Once he crossed the finish line, but 20 minutes out of time. Despite cycling for 12 days and covering 5000 km he didn’t become an official finisher, because he overshot the time. In this case, if he had refrained from spending two extra minutes every day, say, changing his clothes or eating, he would have been a finisher,” says Patil. The second Indian to qualify for RAAM is Kiran Kumar, but he has not yet participated.

Mark Cavendish of UK glances across to see Marcel Kittel (R) of Germany beat him in the finish line sprint during stage twelve of the 2013 Tour de France in July. Pic/Getty Images

Born and brought up in Alibag, in Raigad district of Maharashtra, Patil says he was fortunate to have a “healthy and active childhood”. “I used to come home, finish my homework and cycle all across my town. I would cycle to school and back home. I love cycling. But what drives me is my love of joining the Indian Army. I am sure that joining the army will bring out the best in me. Once, due to an injury, I was not selected. But that won’t happen again. It is this dream that keeps me going.”

Despite the tough environment of the race, Patil believes that the race does not push a cyclist, beyond their limits. It in fact boosts your self-confidence to such an extent, that when you return to your ‘routine’, things seem easier. Your attitude and approach towards everything changes. Patil explains, “A point comes in a rider’s life, he could be an amateur or a professional, when his body starts giving up.

But if you overlook the pain and keep riding, the pain is going to be subdued. So the focus is more on your mental strength rather than your physical. No human can ride 400 km per day for 12 days! You have to keep fooling your mind, or rather treating your mind like a kid. I depend on my happy memories. Sometimes I wish to just go to bed and sleep, but if I give in to it, I know I will never be able to complete anything.”

Participating in RAAM is as hard as finishing the race. The total cost of the participation depends on the kind of race the cyclist chooses. With categories ranging from solo to group, the cost of participating in RAAM starts from R 45 lakh. “I am not looking for charity to help me support the race. I want sponsors, like someone who could help me with a stay or someone who could provide me with an extra cycle and spare tyres”, says Patil. Apart from funds, he will also require a supporting team of either two, four or eight cyclists, to cheer for him and look after his needs during the 12-day race.

Patil smiles as he reminisces about one of his first professional bicycles: “I had named my Trek 1200 SL cycle, Sara. She is like my best friend and soul mate. After I bought her, I thought of going on a solo ride to Goa. I was riding my cycle and I was so lost in the breathtaking view and the feel of my cycle that I didn’t realize I was on a steep hill going downwards. I fell, head first, and my cycle got a few scratches. This is how I got the scar,” he says, pointing to his left temple.

Patil says that cycling and running helped him cope with a rare genetic disorder called ankylosing spondylitis, where his joints could stiffened if he does not remain active. Thus, he has to remain active in order to avoid triggering the pain. Just like any other sportsman, taking care of his diet and training regime is a part of Patil’s lifestyle. During the RAAM qualifier, where the route was Bangalore-Mysore-Ooty, Patil fuelled his energy with coconut- and jaggery-stuffed buns. Patil crossed this route of 600 km in just over a day, with only 20 minutes of sleep.

Now he eats before he is hungry at regular intervals, and drinks water constantly. “I don’t follow any specific high-protein diet and so on. I eat healthy and I exercise, that’s all. As for training, when in Mumbai, I cycle early in the morning at 5 a.m as there are very few cars. For better training, I temporarily shifted to Pune. Here, I lock myself away from my social life and just concentrate on cycling. I cycle to Mahabaleshwar, which takes around three hours one way, in the morning, and I reach back to Pune for lunch.” Though Patil’s qualification for the race will be valid for three years, he hopes to complete the RAAM in his first attempt.

Sumit Patil can be contacted at or

RAAM Fact file
Categories of the Race Across America include Solo, 2-Person, 4-Person, 8-Person.
A typical crew is 8-12 people and 2-4 vehicles. It’s the responsibility of the crew to care for the racers by providing food, clothing, medical care, bicycle repair, massage, entertainment and directions.To finish within the 12-day time limit, racers can’t afford to sleep more than about four hours a day at the most. Racers need to consume 300-400 calories every hour for the duration of the race. That’s more than 8,000 calories each day.

Depending on the number of crew, the number of vehicles, and how deluxe your race is, the cost starts at $20,000. Total distance is more than 3000 miles (more than 4,800 km). Each solo and team will climb more than 100,000 feet. This is roughly the distance from the ground to the edge of space and almost four times the altitude of Mount Everest. In the last four years, RAAM racers have raised more than $4,000,000 for charity.


Race Across America (RAAM)
The Race Across America, or RAAM, is an ultramarathon bicycle race across the United States that started in 1982 as the Great American Bike Race. The 2014 race will start in Oceanside, California, and end in Annapolis, Maryland (June 10-June 21). The first race was organized by John Marino. RAAM is among the best-known and longest annual endurance events in the world.

All entrants must prove their abilities by competing in any of several qualifying events, completing a course within a specified time period. RAAM is sanctioned by the UltraMarathon Cycling Association (UMCA). The direction of Race Across America, has always been from the west coast to the east coast of the United States, approximately 3,000 miles (4,800 km), making it a transcontinental event. More importantly, the race has no stages, ie, it is in principle a nonstop event from start to finish, with the fastest competitors needing slightly over a week to complete the course.

RAAM vs Tour de France
Tour De France (TDF) is a stage race where a cyclist covers a distance of 3000 km in 19 stages over a period of 21 days, whereas RAAM is a non-stop transcontinental time-trial event, where a cyclist has to complete a distance of around 5000 km in less than 12 days. One has to ride more than 400 km a day during the course of the race. There are no stages and the clock always ticks in RAAM - hence the food stops, sleep stops and even toilet breaks are included in the final time of completion. The cyclist in RAAM sleeps no more than two hours a day. Unlike Tour De France there is no advantage from fellow team-members

Who is Sumit Patil?
An endurance cyclist from Mumbai, Sumit Patil is the third Indian to qualify for the world’s toughest cycling race — RAAM. Born and brought up in Alibag, Patil is an avid trekker, mountaineer, landscape photographer, musician and astronomer. Aspiring to join the Indian Army, the 28-year-old has put in more than 50,000 km in training in the last four years and has also covered more than 5,400 km during events like BRMs, PBP, Desert 500 and UltraBOB. This total distance can take him more than once around our planet Earth. 

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