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Ultra cyclist Shusanah Pillinger sets out tomorrow to become first British woman to conquer RAAM solo

Hertfordshire rider back for coast-to-coast race after crashing two thirds of the way through 12 months ago

A cyclist from St Albans who last year aimed to become the first British woman to complete the Race Across America (RAAM) solo, but crashed out more than two thirds of the way through with a broken collarbone, will set out from California tomorrow for a second attempt.

Shusanah Pillinger will be supported by a crew of eight people on the 3,000 mile journey from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland, including a paramedic from Hertfordshire Air Ambulance, the charity she is raising money for.

Erica Ley was also a member of the support crew on the ill-fated attempt 12 months ago which came to a halt with that crash on the ninth day of the coast-to-coast challenge.

Ahead of leaving for this year’s race, Pillinger said:  “Last year I was supporting the Herts Air Ambulance whilst taking part in the same race but was unlucky enough to fall from my bike after 2,150 miles, breaking my collarbone.

“However I was lucky to have my own personal helicopter paramedic in the support crew so was looked after well.

“Erica's expertise was also called on to help out another cyclist who collapsed during the race – something that probably saved his life.”

She said the incident gave her a new perspective on the first-response team’s work and has made her more determined than ever to raise funds for them.

“Knowing what these guys can do in an emergency, from witnessing it first hand, really makes me want to help contribute to the upkeep of the vital service, so I will once again be fundraising for the Herts Air Ambulance this year,” she explained.

“My primary goal is to finish the race and claim the first British solo female record without further incident but it would be fantastic if we could raise more than last year’s total of £8,200 on the way! Every pound donated will help me to keep pedalling.”

Pillinger, whose two bikes are nicknamed Sagan and Wiggo, has another more lighthearted challenge in mind besides completing RAAM – earning a British Cycling pin badge and a place in a prize draw for a goodie back by completing its climbing challenge that coincides with this week’s Aviva Women’s Tour.

Given that if all goes to plan she’ll cross the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies over the coming days, the 5,874 metres required to earn that badge should be well within her reach – but as she told a supporter on her Facebook page, “only if my Garmins stop crashing and losing my data. I lost all of Wolf Creek Pass last year.”

Essex & Herts Air Ambulance fundraising co-ordinator Cristina Barone told the Herts Advertiser:  “We are absolutely in awe of Shu’s determination and courage for taking on this gruelling challenge for the second time, and for raising money for Herts Air Ambulance along the way.

“Her story is truly inspiring, and I hope the local community will sponsor her incredible challenge. It is not often that someone will cycle 3,000 miles for a charity, and to do it twice is extraordinary!”

The ultracyclist is the daughter of the planetary scientist Colin Pillinger, who died in May last year, and who was in charge of the Beagle 2 Mars exploration project.

The probe, launched in 2003, had been believed lost but was discovered on the surface of the planet in January this year.

He was also an advocate of the Philae project, which landed on the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko last November, 10 years after leaving Earth as part of the European Space Agency’s Rosseta mission.

Two days ago, the lander reactivated itself from hibernation two months earlier than expected, with one well-wisher on The Road to RAAM Facebook page taking it as a good omen, telling Pillinger: “Not sure if you have seen the news – Philae has woken up in time to watch your journey across America!"

Her crew will be blogging about her ride in the coming days, and you can also follow her progress on Twitter as well as through the official RAAM website, and donate to Herts Air Ambulance through Pillinger’s page on Just Giving.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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