Cyclists competing in the 3,000-mile Race Across America have been pedaling through Jefferson City the past few days.
Solo riders and relay teams left Oceanside, California, last weekend to ride across 12 states to Annapolis, Maryland.
The racers are professionals and amateurs. The race is about 30 percent longer than the Tour de France, and cyclists must complete the distance in roughly half the time, with no rest days, according to information on the Race Across America website. Team racers have a maximum of nine days, but most finish in about seven and a half. Solo racers have a maximum of 12 days to complete the race, most finishing in 11 days with the fastest finishing in less than eight days.
Solo racers and teams have support crews following alongside to supply food, fluids, navigation, medical care and bike repair.
Race officials said every year there are racers from at least 20 countries. More than 35 countries, from six continents, have been represented throughout the history of the race, which has been taking place for more than 30 years.
Racers come into Missouri from the south. To get through Mid-Missouri, they travel north on U.S. 54 then east toward St. Louis.
A group of bicycle racing supporters has set up a stop for the racers and their teams off Jefferson Street, between the Conoco Station and the old Truman Hotel. They have been there at all hours, even early in the morning and late at night, to give encouragement to the riders and their teams, while trying to answer any questions about getting through the area. The supporters said they enjoy meeting people from all parts of the world having already had racers come through from Denmark, Japan and Austria.
Martin Bergmeister, of Italy, arrived in Jefferson City on Tuesday evening. Klaus Widmann, the crew chief for Team Martin, said the whole support crew is from the northern part of Italy, where Bergmeister is from.
"I'm Martin's cousin and actually grew up in northern California," Widmann said. "We joked about pictures where he was pushing me around in a stroller and taking care of me, so now this is the time I can return the favor."
Bergmeister did his first race three years ago with a small, rookie crew, completing the race in 11 days, 23 hours and 30 minutes — just getting in before the 12-day limit, Widmann said.
"He got bitten by the bug of excitement for this race and will try to do it in less time this year, but a lot depends on the weather," Widmann said.
Widmann said Bergmeister has always been into sports, having played professional soccer as a goalie and participating in cross country races.
"It wasn't until 10 years ago that he really got into biking," Widmann said. "He's always been in good shape."
Widmann said they have been able to see many beautiful parts of the country on this race.
"You think you'll be able to see a lot more, but there are many times when you are following the biker in the vehicle in the night so you do miss out on some sights," Widmann said. "I still think it's a fascinating route. Missouri is very nice — lush and green. The people have been very friendly."
Perhaps, Widmann said, what draws racers to this event is not just the physical challenge, but the mental challenge that goes along with it.
"You get to a point where you ask yourself, 'Why am I doing this?' because you have so many hurts," Widmann said. "You have to build up that inner resistance so you can keep on going."
To keep up on the race, visit raceacrossamerica.org.