Amidst the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and croissants, fitness and cycling enthusiasts gathered at Ciclo café for a rendezvous with ultra cyclist Marko Baloh. With rapt attention, they delved into the narrative of a man, who has conquered the unfathomable: completing the legendary Race Across America (RAAM) an astounding nine times.
“I heard about RAAM in the early 1990s when I saw a documentary . When you first hear about it, you either think these people are crazy, or you think this is fun and that maybe you can do it,” Marko says, laughing. Marko first attempted the ultra-distance cycling race in 2003 after facing roadblocks , which included a lack of sponsors, and a health setback.
To be able to participate in RAAM, a cyclist has to do a qualifier race. Today, there are a number of different races across the world that act as qualifiers such as the Race Across Ireland, Race Across Paris, and India’s Deccan Cliffhanger.. However, back then qualifying races were only held in the US. “It was expensive and time consuming, but if you qualified, you would get an invitation to participate in RAAM for the next three years,” he explains.
In 2006, Marko successfully completed the race as a solo rider for the first time, finishing second in the enduro category. “I thought I was done and checked it off my bucket list. I then met Tomaz Percic, and he convinced me to participate again as a two-person team. I’m from Ljubljana, Slovenia, and he was from Celje which is approximately 70 kilometres away. In preparation, we would cycle halfway to each other , meet for coffee, and then go back to work,” he recalls. In 2008, Marko and Tomaz were the first team from Slovenia to participate in RAAM, and they went on to win first place in the two-person team category.
After that, Marko competed in RAAM six more times — 2009, 2011, 2013, 2016, 2017, and in 2019, when he set the world record in the 50-59 years category. “I’m guessing 2019 was my last, but if someone would write me a cheque today and ask if I wanted to go, I would probably go,” he says.
Marko’s visit to Chennai was not confined to inspiring cycling enthusiasts in the city. It extended to the serene outskirts at SOL Fitness Resorts, where he conducted a three-day cycling workshop. He also led a 100-kilometre open ride with 45 other cyclists from the city.
“I cannot imagine my life without cycling. If I’m not racing, I’m following the races, supporting one of my clients, and coaching others,” he says, recalling how the longest he has spent without his bike has been the two weeks he was in the Canary Islands for his honeymoon.