Among the riders lining up at the start of the epic Race Against America next month will be British Olympian Steve Redgrave and his seven-man crew.
With 3,000 miles of cycling ahead of them, including 100,000ft of climbing, it's no wonder RAAM is regarded as one of the toughest endurance races in the world.
To make things even harder, Sir Steve has been retired for 10 years, was always more at home in a boat than on a bike – and has Type 1 diabetes.
It's vital that the champion rower keeps a close eye on his glucose levels, as physical exercise could cause a dramatic drop in blood sugar which, if left untreated, could cause loss of consciousness, seizure, coma or even death. He's having an innovative new Paradigm Veo insulin pump and glucose monitoring system fitted to his bike that will give constant feedback.
A monitor on his handlebars will be 'twinned' with a second unit on a belt around his waist so he can check his blood sugar levels at the same time as his speed and distance, and use a remote control to give himself insulin if required. Sir Steve said that without this equipment, "the idea of completing an endurance cycling event like this would be impossible".
RAAM starts on 12 June. Competitors will ride from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland, passing through a total of 14 states along the way. Teams ride in relay for 24 hours a day and typically cover 350-500 miles. They'll climb the Rocky Mountains, descend into Monument Valley and have to contend with deserts, prairies and plains with extremes of heat, cold, rain and snow.
Sir Steve’s team, the Redgrave Crew, is made up of a group of old friends, all former rowers, with an average age of 47. They hope to raise £100,000 – £1 for every foot climbed – for the Steve Redgrave Fund, which aims to help disadvantaged children through sport, and Sport Relief. Despite having little previous cycling experience – a wet practice session last week was the first time many of them had ridden in rain – a 24-hour training day held last month proved a success.
The team at last month's 24-hour training, minus John Mottram and Francis Paxton due to the Icelandic ash cloud. L to R: Malcolm Cooper, Joff Spencer-Jones, Sir Steve, Peter McConnell, Ian Neville and Nick Spencer-Jones
Team blogger Peter McConnell said: "Sir Steve showed the tremendous strength that he's famous for. He'll be the first to admit that he isn't the fittest at the moment, but watching him haul his big frame, which is entirely unsuited to cycling, up the hills time after time and giving encouragement to the rest of the team on the road or back at base is inspirational. It’s easy to forget he has serious diabetes as he continues to push the boundaries of what someone with the condition can achieve."
Sir Steve won gold medals at five successive Olympic Games, from 1984 to 2000, making him Britain’s most successful Olympic athlete of all time. Since founding the Steve Redgrave Fund in 2001, he has raised over £5m for charity. He was recently voted England’s Greatest Ever Sportsman by Commonwealth Games England.
“I was looking for a challenge that would enable me to raise money for my charity – something I'm very passionate about – but would also challenge me to train hard again and get some real fitness back," he said. "The RAAM is an unbelievable race and I’m really lucky to be doing it with a group of old friends, who I know I can rely on to put everything they’ve got into both the fundraising and the race."
Sir Steve's team – the other members are Jonathan Spencer-Jones, Nick Spencer-Jones, Malcolm Cooper, Ian Neville, John Mottram, Francis Paxton and Peter McConnell – are being supported by Specialized, Pearson Cycles in Sutton and Ultimate Sports Engineering. You can follow them on Twitter or via www.redgravecrew.com.