World’s toughest bicycle race makes even the most seasoned Philippine cyclists anxious—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing

By EA Francisco and Eric Nicole Salta | Photos courtesy of TNR600

History says Team David Salon’s attempt to race 3,000 miles across America should be a tough one—notwithstanding the fact that they are the first Southeast Asian mixed relay team to ever compete in what is considered the world’s toughest bicycle race.

Composed of four individuals from diverse backgrounds—Audax Randonneurs Philippines founder Carmela Serina Pearson, long-time Philippine resident Colin Pearson who has a number of completed cycling tours under his belt, four-time French National MTB high school champion Vanessa Bandoy Hans, and 15 Audax ride finisher Guillaume d’Aboville—the team’s decision to slug it out against fellow athletes from around the world over 12 states, four rivers, and three mountain ranges stems from their goal of inspiring people to pursue their own passions in sport and life.

This diverse team’s participation, whether they intended it or not, also comes at a time when immigration is such a critical issue in the United States. Not only do these experienced cyclists provide a strong edge for the Philippines, they also send a strong message to the world with a unique team arrangement—men and women of different races and ages—coming together for a common goal. That, along with the strength of their skills and experience, should make for an entertaining first-time race across America.

team philippines vanessa

Whose idea was it to race across America?

Vanessa Bandoy Hans (VBH): It was Carmela’s as she was approached by one of her teammates from Singapore.

Guillaume d’Aboville (GDA) : At a certain point, all of us have been thinking or dreaming to participate in this race. Carmela asked me about eight months ago to join Race Across America (RAAM) with her, Colin, and Vanessa.

Tell us how you first got introduced to and got interested in the Race Across America?

Carmela Serina Pearson (CSP): When I met some riders in Singapore who have done RAAM. It was pretty inspiring, and I wanted to do the same thing.

VBH: As a cyclist, it is part of the cycling culture. Everyone knows this legendary ride!

GDA: After I participated solo at the 2015 “Paris-Brest-Paris” (PBP), a non-stop cycling event of 1200 km, I was looking for a new challenge and a more difficult one. Hence, RAAM became my next goal.

How was this mixed-relay team formed? What were the considerations?

Colin Pearson (CP): Having already completed and supported Mela in PBP, which is 1,240 km in 90 hours, I had a proven record of being able to ride very long distances with sleep deprivation. And RAAM is likely to be the same distance as PBP per rider in a team of four, so should be easier as you get more sleep and rest.

VBH: We are good friends on and off the bike, so it was natural for us to be together on this. We were lucky that both Carmela and Vany are part of the all-women Team David’s Salon multisport team and got David Charlton’s support for this endeavor as well.

GDA: We have been training together for several years now so we know each other well. The main consideration is to be comfortable with each other and to form a balanced team. A team competition (or team race) is very different from a solo competition. We all depend on each other so trust is an important factor and this is not limited to the four cyclists but to all the crew members as well.

What’s your training regimen like?

CP: We’ve just come off three back-to-back weekends of racing long distance events, one of which was TRN600, which was 600km in four days, which is excellent base training and gets us used to riding long distance over multiple days. The key now is to continue the five to seven hour rides on weekends and get used to our TT and road bikes. We all have full-time jobs, so sometimes it’s hard to ride mid-week, but the plan now is to ride three times per week on a trainer as well.

CSP: Consistent riding on weekends and then a couple of races to build up for RAAM. I just did Tour De Bintan in Indonesia in March. I’m doing a 312km road race in Mallorca, Spain in April. I also swim regularly as a good cross-training activity.

VBH: Long rides on weekends and, as much as possible, stationary bike during week days. I’ve also been joining triathlons and duathlons for cross training.

GDA: My training is composed of cycling, indoor spinning, fast walking, core and neck reinforcement exercises, other cardio exercises, and light leg workouts such as squats for a total of about 18 to 20 hours per week. I do not have any special diet except that I do not eat beef and pork and I limit my intake of carbs, fat, and sugar in order to control my weight. Weight is the enemy of cyclists specifically during climbs and RAAM has lot of ascends.

What do you do when you’ve had a shitty training or workout?

CP: Eat well and sleep for two hours.

CSP: Think of happy thoughts and live to fight another day!

VBH: Just go for a good meal to recover and think about the next day and how to improve.

GDA: It does not bother me that much. I know too well that patience is the key. When I have a bad day, I just complete my training or workout despite the frustration and I tell myself tomorrow will be better.

You all have experience riding long distances, but is there anything about RAAM that makes you nervous?

CP: The event is literally 24/7, through deserts and mountains and a lot can happen this time with injuries, mechanicals, getting lost… plus even if we do well, this is still going to take seven days, which is three to four days longer than PBP thus riding seven days on minimal sleep, most of which will be in the van or on a camp bed or foam, makes me nervous. And it’s not just about me, I have to rely on the others to pull their weight, otherwise this will get ridiculously hard very quickly.

GDA: RAAM is the unknown for the four of us so naturally we are anxious. Even with our past experiences we have never participated in a race of this magnitude in terms of distance and duration. On the positive side, I know once the race starts, this anxiety will disappear because I will be totally focused on the race itself.

What do you think is the most challenging about the RAAM course?

GDA: Physically and mentally, it would probably be my toughest race. In a relay, you need to give it your all in a relatively short time since you are rotating with other teammates. This kind of maximum but brief effort is certainly more adequate for young athletes who can easily alternate periods of high intensity and rest. On race day, I will be 59 years old so naturally even if I am relatively well-trained my recovery time is longer and inevitably my performance will be affected. In addition, we will be facing a number of issues such as lack of sleep, heat, cold, possible injuries, exhaustion, and extreme fatigue. Beside those problems we have to manage, we need to be careful with our nutrition and hydration.

At a time when immigration is a big issue especially in America, how do you think races like this affect or change the immigration dialogue? Can you explain how events like this can become a platform for change?

VBH: Joining this as the first team of Southeast Asia and representing different countries will be a good example of solidarity and cooperation.

GDA: First of all, I do hope some participants won’t be affected directly due to visa restrictions imposed. These kinds of races are getting very popular and bring together many nationalities, people from different horizons and cultures, united by the same passion for cycling. I believe these events are beneficial because they promote dialogue and exchanges. Personally, diversity is a wonderful thing. One important feature to note is that Team Philippines is composed of four people from different backgrounds.

Is there an underlying message you want to send across as well? 

CP: Cycling is one of the few sports where you can perform at a very high level from 20 to 60 years old, so it allows mixed age and sex teams to compete equally. The message is: you can ride your bike for life and it will keep you healthy and fit.

VBH: Absolutely, different ages, different genders, different backgrounds (education, work and sports-wise!), I don’t think we can be more diverse than that. This is a great symbol of the strength that can be driven out of diversity.

GDA: Initially, the team was not intentionally formed because of our different backgrounds but because of our common goal. I hope that through our diversities we will set an example and empower other ordinary people like us, from various backgrounds, age, gender, to challenge themselves and accomplish their dreams in sports and in life.

What does it mean for you to be the first mixed relay team from Southeast Asia and the Philippines to race across America? Why did it take this long though?

CSP: Humbling, but also quite a pressure. It took this long because the preparation and the race itself is just too demanding, and the Philippine cycling community is still considered very young when it comes to long-distance cycling.

VBH: It is a great honor and we are hoping this will lead the way to many more teams! I don’t think cycling is part of the sports culture in Southeast Asia, which is one of the reasons why it might have taken that long.

How does this your partnership with TaskUs help in the team preparations?

CSP: Aside from providing the necessary operational support and budget aid, TaskUs is helping drum up even more support across media and industries for the team. Believing in what the team stands for, TaskUs seeks to loyally stand by this first team from Southeast Asia from first pedal to finish line.

Do any of you feel any pressure to do well?

CP: Pressure to do my part yes because I know how hard it will be on the others if I can’t pull my weight.

VBH: A little pressure because not only do we have a team to work for but also people in the support crew dedicating their time to us.

GDA: For me, mostly the pressure not to deceive my teammates and our crew.

Do you have specific goals at RAAM or you’ll just enjoy the experience?

CP: Continuously eat and sleep well. The motto is to finish strong, pace yourself for the distance, and try and enjoy the ride and experience with your team mates.

CSP: Finish within cut-off. We would love to podium but we have no idea how the competition would be like. Finishing would be a great milestone already.

GDA: “Enjoy the experience” is not the way I would say it because it will be very tough but I expect to have an unforgettable human experience with my teammates and crew. The goal is to finish within the cut-off time. Anything on top of this (fast time, podium finish etc.) would be the strawberry on the cake.

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