Cycling | 6 comments
By: Zdenko Kahlina
IN MEMORIAM – Two year anniversary JURE ROBIC (1965 – 2010)
Ultra-endurance competitions produced physical exhaustion, imaginary assailants.
Jure Robic, a long-distance bicyclist who won the grueling Race Across America five times and whose seemingly endless, sleep-eschewing stamina tested the limits of human endurance, died Sept. 24 2010, during a training ride when he collided with a car on a mountain road in Plavski Rovt, Slovenia, near his home in Jesenice. He was only 45 years old.
Primoz Kalisnik, a Slovenian journalist and a friend of Robic, said that the driver of the car, a 55-year-old local man who was not hurt, was not at fault and that Robic, who was going downhill on a mountain bike, may have been travelling as fast as 80 kilometers an hour on a narrow, winding stretch of unpaved road where it was impossible to see around the next bend. He was training for next month’s Crocodile Trophy mountain bike race in Australia, Kalisnik said.
Such a sad scene… Jure was driving down this road you see… and as far as I know, he was going really fast. So that car you see here (not police one) collided with Jure… and sadly as you already know…
Even in the circumscribed world of ultra-endurance athletes, Robic (his full name is pronounced YUR-eh ROHbich) was known for his willingness, or his ability — or both — to push his body to extremes of fatigue. Compared by other riders to a machine and known to friends as Animal (a seeming contradiction that nonetheless made sense), he once rode 835 kilometers in 24 hours, a world record.
Jure Robic (left) and his friend Marko Baloh
Jure and Marko
Jure with friends
One occasional feature of his training regimen, which included daily rides or other workouts stretching between six and 10 hours, was a 48-hour period without sleep: a 24-hour ride followed by a 12-hour break followed by a 12-hour workout. Play, a magazine about sports that appeared in The New York Times, reported in 2006 that Robic rode 45,000 kilometers — more than the circumference of the Earth — every year.
His five victories in the Race across America, an approximately 4,800-kilometre transcontinental ride that has been held annually since 1982, are unequalled. (The current course extends from Oceanside, Calif., to Annapolis, Md.)
Always surrounded with friends – Jure is on the right.
Jure (in the middle) at the start of the race
Unlike the Tour de France, the Race Across America is not a stage race; once it begins, there is no respite for riders until they give up or cross the finish line, so determining when and how long to sleep is the event’s primary strategic element. The winner generally sleeps less than two hours out of 24 and finishes in less than nine days (although Robic’s winning time this past June was a relatively lethargic 9 days, 46 minutes).
Five victories in the Race across America – Jure Robic
In 2005, Robic won the race and two weeks later won Le Tour Direct, a 4,000-kilometre European version with a course derived from Tour de France routes that included 42,000 meters of climbing — almost the equivalent of starting at sea level and ascending Mount Everest five times. His time was 7 days, 19 hours.
Robic became accustomed to both the physical and mental stress that pushing himself to extremes brought on. In the later stages of long-distance races, feet swell as much as two sizes and thumb nerves go dull from the pressure of hands on handlebars. Robic told Daniel Coyle, the Play magazine reporter, that for weeks after the Race Across America, he had to use two hands to turn a key.
“Don’t even ask about the derriere,” Coyle wrote. “When I did, Robic pantomimed placing a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger.”
Jure Robic legs
The mental anguish may be worse. As each race went on, Robic’s temper grew shorter and occasionally exploded. He was prone to hallucinations. More than once he leaped off his bicycle to do battle with threatening attackers who turned out to be mailboxes. Once he imagined he was being pursued by men with black beards on horseback — mujahedeen, he explained to his support team, who encouraged him to ride faster and keep ahead of them.
In 2003, the first time Robic entered the Race Across America, finishing second, Kalisnik volunteered to work on his team and was stunned by the changes the event wrought in Robic’s demeanor.
“We were just a group of guys helping a friend,” Kalisnik said. “We discovered someone we were absolutely afraid of.”
Jure Robic was ultra-endurance athlete
Robic knew this about himself. “In race, everything inside me comes out,” he said. “Good, bad, everything. My mind, it begins to do things on its own. I do not like it, but this is the way I must go to win the race.”
Robic was born in Jesenice on April 10, 1965. From 1988 to 1994, he was a member of the Slovenian national cycling team, and until recently he was a soldier in the Slovenian army, a member of its athletic corps, which allowed him to train full time. (Among other methods employed during races to penetrate Robic’s numbing exhaustion and motivate him, his crew members, riding in a van behind him, sometimes blared Slovenian military music through a loudspeaker.)
Robic’s marriage ended in divorce; he is survived by a half-brother and a son. A brother, Saso, a former professional skier, committed suicide earlier this year.