Marko Baloh (Slovenia) was pegged by many to be among the very few with a shot at winning the 2016 Race Across America. The 48 year old (he’ll be 49 next month) was one of the most experienced and most accomplished racers in this year’s field; he’s been on a winning two-rider team, took second in the 2006 Enduro category and was third in 2009 and 2011, fifth in 2013 and in 2014 won the 848-mile Race Across the West. He finished early this morning in third place, “The final result is great, though maybe not as great as I was hoping for.”
Early in the race Baloh and some of the other more experienced favorites did exactly what you’d expect them to do—they stayed near the front, but not at the front and let the younger, more eager racers set the pace. That strategy worked well for Baloh who by the second day planted himself in third and more or less stayed there, content with his pace and biding his time. But as the race progressed maintaining that pace became more of a challenge as due to the heat and exertion his body began retaining water due to edema. At its worst he weighed nine pounds more than in Oceanside, “I had big legs. You should have seen me—I looked like a sprinter for a couple of days,” he told me this morning on the finish stage. “My crew chief Kerry monitored the PH of my urine and changed my diet and it took two or three days to clear up.” He rolled up a sleeve to reveal an arm, “See, still my arms are kind of puffy. Usually I am a very thin guy. So this is not me. And I had some coughing issues and some saddle sores. This saved my ass, literally,” he said as he pointed to the Infinity Seat on his bike. The seat looks as if someone took a knife and cut out the center of it, leaving only the outer edges. “I’ve had two of those sitting in my garage for a couple of years and never tried them,” he explained. “And this year before the race I met the inventor and he gave me these. They worked.”
Late in the race Baloh and second place finisher Dave Haase (USA) were in close proximity for a time, “”I heard about his issues and when he caught up to me I asked him if we could help each other,” Baloh related. “You cannot ride together but you can pace. If we could join forces maybe we could catch up to Mark (Pattinson) and Pierre (Bischoff).”He said that was a good idea but he had just planned for a rest stop so it never really happened, though we were together for maybe an hour that day. The next day we were up with him again. He’s a fast guy, so I like racing with him.
As our chat on the finish stage neared an end, Baloh spied a platter of strudel that a fan had baked and brought for him. Anxious to accept (and devour) this gracious gift he answered my final question of how surprised he is about RAAM 2016 winner Pierre Bischoff. Tongue-in-cheek the RAAM veteran replied,
“He’s a good rider—for a rookie. I’ll talk with him tomorrow and maybe he’ll give me some pointers.”