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British team aims for RAAM record they missed by 11 minutes last year

Strategic Lions have also found time while training to mentor team of wounded and injured service personnel taking part in race

Strategic Lions, a team comprising elite and novice riders from Yorkshire who last year won the eight-man relay category in the Race Across America (RAAM) have met with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg ahead of taking part in this year’s race, in which they aim to set a new record having missed out by just 11 minutes last year. What’s more, amid their training for the event, they have also found time to mentor a team made up of wounded and injured service personnel who are making their debut in the RAAM this year, with both aiming to raise money for Help for Heroes.

The eight riders who make up Team Battle Back RAAM 2012 include four double amputees who will undertake the 3,051-mile coast-to-coast challenge on handbikes, and who with their four team mates have been receiving mentoring from the Strategic Lions riders who participated in the race 12 months ago. Each member of Team Battle Back RAAM 2012 was wounded while on operations, or injured while in training.

Ahead of their departure for this year’s RAAM, which for the eight-man category starts next Saturday 16 June, members of Team Strategic Lions met Mr Clegg at Admiralty House in Whitehall.

Afterwards, he said: “For these lads, the bike is just the beginning. They’ve toiled and trained tirelessly to raise cash for brave British troops who’ve been wounded fighting for our country and the freedom of others. Not only have they trained for their own 3,000-mile challenge, but they’ve mentored a team of injured ex-forces veterans too. I wish them all the best of luck in this year’s race.”

The crew chief of Team Battle Back RAAM 2012, Jon Paul Nevin, commented: “The support from Team Strategic Lions has been absolutely instrumental in our preparations for the Race Across America. They have gone above and beyond in doing their bit and we wish them every success as they take on America.”

The Strategic Lions team itself is a mix of novice and elite cyclists, and managing director Andy Watson said: “We are fast approaching the time when the 4,000 miles in the saddle, gruelling interval and power sprints sessions, testing weight reduction and management plans finally pay off.  Whilst the elite riders are used to this kind of lifestyle, it has come as a steep learning curve for the rest of us.  

“This all pales into insignificance when you consider how challenging the race is going to be for the Help for Heroes RAAM Team,” he went on. “Our time spent mentoring the wounded soldiers has been an absolute privilege. 

“They are a group of inspiring men who despite their injuries, are true ambassadors for the sporting world. We are delighted to have played just a small part in preparing them for the race, particularly as sport and physical activities have a proven track record at successfully aiding physical and psychological rehabilitation.”

“Whilst we came home triumphant last year after winning the eight man relay, we felt we still had a little more fuel in the tank,” he continued.  “So this year, our aim is to show our true northern grit and determination by not only bring home medals, but creating our own piece of sporting history by setting a new time record.”

Now in its 31st year, the RAAM takes in a dozen states on its 3,051-mile journey from Oceanside, California to Annapolis Maryland, with more than 170,000 feet of climbing and wild variations in terrain and temperature, from sub-zero in the Colorado Mountains to more than 40 degrees Celsius in the Arizona desert and Kansas dust bowl.

To set a new record, Team Strategic Lions will need to average a speed of 23.5 miles an hour. The team was set up by Andy Watson and Damian Bourke whose backgrounds, respectively, are in construction and dentistry. Joining them and work colleague Stewart Loben on the RAAM are five experienced elite cyclists with a number of titles to their name.

Those are Kevin Dawson, 11 times Best British All Round champion, two-time Olympian and twice British Road Race Champion John Tanner, and TT specialists Keith Murray, Colin Humphrey and Chris Last.

The support crew is headed up by Paul Danisz and his deputy Phil Riley, and will drive ahead of the riders to navigate the route as well as providing food and drink along the way, and will also be supported by a team of sports masseurs and physiotherapists.

Oh, and the time they are aiming to beat for the coast-to-coast ride? That’s five days, nine hours and three minutes.

We’ll be bringing you updates on their progress as they head across the United States, starting next weekend, and more information can be found on the team website as well as the official RAAM website.

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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