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Lending Aid, Every Pedal of Way : Cycling: In the Race Across America, a good support crew is crucial to make it to the top.


DURANGO, Colo. — Night has fallen in southwestern Colorado.

At 8:20 p.m. (PDT) Tuesday, Richard Fedrigon, 38, of Chicago, walks out of his room at the Country View Lodge ready to begin his third night in the Race Across America.

He has slept nearly two hours, all he's going to sleep for the next 24, and now it's time to get back on the bicycle.

A crew of four is ready to follow a short distance behind in a 1987 Toyota van. When Fedrigon hits the blacktop, the van drops in behind him. It will stay there until Wednesday morning.

Driving is Bob Lynn, 30, from State College, Pa. The navigator is Ron Kohl, 36, of Libertyville, Ill. Cindi Staiger, 38, former RAAM women's division winner and the van's owner, is in back. They are part of Fedrigon's seven-person, two-vehicle support crew. The fourth rider in the van is aboard to observe and learn how it's done.

They will guide Fedrigon through the most difficult and dangerous part of any 24-hour period in RAAM--the night hours. And they will do it over the steepest climbs along the 2,922-mile route from Irvine to Savannah, Ga.

Fedrigon begins Tuesday night's ride with gentle climbs and descents, heading east on U.S. route 160.

Seventy-eight miles ahead is Wolf Creek Pass, the highest point on the course. The pass is 10,850 feet above sea level, 4,338 feet above Durango.

At first the tasks are simple. But the crew cannot know how difficult things will become as the night wears on.

Staiger seems so keyed up she can't sit still. She arranges and rearranges various plastic tubs. Some are filled with shorts and arm and leg warmers and others with tires. Others contain food--wheat crackers, grapes, bananas. A cardboard box is filled to overflowing with plastic water bottles.

Staiger, who joined the crew Saturday afternoon, sits on an ice chest stocked with soda, baked potatoes, water and a high-calorie, high-carbohydrate drink called Ultra Energy.

Fedrigon will drink a bottle once every 40 to 50 minutes as the road rises and falls toward the base of Wolf Creek.

He is working hard now. He was the race's leader for Tuesday afternoon's trek across southern Utah and into Colorado. While he slept, however, first Bob Fourney of Denver, at home in the thin air, then Rob Kish of Port Orange, Fla., and Al Muldoon of St. Joseph, Mich., passed him.

At 8:58, Fedrigon, with the crew in tow, passes a support van with Kish's race number, 39, affixed to it. Kish's bike, Staiger reports, is resting on the front end. Kish must be sleeping.

"That's got him so excited," Kohl says as Fedrigon picks up his pace.

Fedrigon stops momentarily at 9:30 to put on arm and leg warmers and an extra jacket. Already, it's getting colder, perhaps below 60 degrees.

Some riders prefer to have music played to them over the pace van's public-address system. Rick Kent of Houston is called the Boom Box Kid because of the huge stereo speakers installed on the roof of his van.

Some like to be read to. On a long grade 20 miles west of Durango, Kish's crew read the Rocky Mountain News.

Fedrigon likes the relative solitude. After all, the van is only a couple of yards away.

Crossing into Pagosa Springs, Colo., the last town before the climb, the crew sees the amber flashers of a rider. By 11:35, they've caught Muldoon. Only Fourney is ahead now. But so is Wolf Creek Pass.

The road is steeper now. Fewer cars pass and the crew pulls alongside Fedrigon to hand him Ultra Energy in a fixed pattern.

At 12:30 a.m., the van's radio picks up the old Blood, Sweat and Tears standard, "Spinnin' Wheel." In a minute, it fades out, to be replaced by Roy Orbison's "Only the Lonely." Both songs seem appropriate at this hour on this stretch of road.

Fedrigon passes a road sign that reads: 8 Miles to Wolf Creek Summit.

It's 1:06 a.m.

Fedrigon rounds the hairpin curves strongly for the first two miles. At one point, Staiger and the observer hop out of the van to hand him more Ultra Energy, running alongside. The thin air leaves them gasping for breath when they flop back in the van.

"I'm totally focused," Fedrigon tells them before they leave. "I'm very introspective right now. I'm dealing with the discomfort. Actually, it's not too bad."

Trouble begins less than 20 minutes later, he's off his bike, walking it then running it. A pattern begins. Fedrigon rides a while, walks a while, his confidence is seeping away in the cold and the altitude.

The crew changes rear wheels in effort to gain a lower gear. It seems to help only for a few hundred meters. It's getting colder and a wind has begun.

After yet another stop, this time to woof down a baked potato and drink more Ultra Energy, Fedrigon sighs, "Another round with Mike Tyson."

At 2:15, he's shivering uncontrollably. The temperature seems to have dipped below 45 degrees.

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