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Yure Robic: Faster Than Lighting?
By Vic Armijo

Yesterday morning, June 12, I awoke in Taos, New Mexico. Originally my plan was to stay in Taos for part of the day to cover the racers back in he field. But an early morning phone call from RAAM’s media director changed all that. “We need you to chase down Robic.” Okay, off we go. How long can it take to chase down a guy on a bicycle? Oh, as we were to learn, about fifteen hours!

As we left Taos, Robic was already in Oklahoma. We held an Easterly heading all day, stopping only for gas and slowing only to shoot a few photos of the other racers that we passed. Incredibly, the last rider we passed, second place David Haase, was between Clayton, New Mexico and Elkhart, Oklahoma, Robic’s lead was well over a hundred miles!

As nightfall approached we could see a huge cloud mass ahead. Knowing that there had been a tragic tornado just the day before we scanned the radio dial and learned that there were two tornado watches in effect—both were in and around Wichita, Kansas—right in the direction that we were headed! As we traveled the thunderheads grew higher, winds picked up and we grew more concerned. We were very quiet driving through Greensburg, the site of a town-leveling twister just over a year ago. The rubble and debris we saw last year is mostly gone, but the devastation of ’07 is still quite evident.

Finally we reached Pratt, Kansas and the famed McDonald’s that feeds anyone associated with RAAM for free. My fellow RAAM media dudes, Danny Chew and Allen Larsen were there, busy working (and Danny likely working on his third or fourth meal). Larsen gave me a report of Robic’s whereabouts; we calculated that by going off the race route and taking the highway, we could head off Robic in El Dorado, Kansas.

By then the tornado watch had been downgraded to a severe thunder-shower warning. Great! So now instead of us heading toward probable doom we were only headed toward possible doom! The next couple of hours treated us to an incredible light show, with an average of 20 lightning strikes per minute. Somehow we were always just minutes behind the rain. We’d encounter wet roads, but no rain. Finally we reached El Dorado and checked in with RAAM headquarters. Our plan had worked; Robic hadn’t been here yet so we backtracked on the race route, pulled over near a corn-field (okay so anywhere in Kansas is near a corn-field) and watched the continuing light show.

Within minutes I could hear Euro-Disco in the distance and soon Robic and his follow car appeared, his sound system blaring. I snapped off a few frames as he passed and then jumped in our vehicle to follow. At that moment the rain that we had dodged so far finally arrived. Drops hadn’t fallen on Robic for more than ten seconds when a hand bearing a rain jacket appeared from his follow car’s passenger window. Robic’s crew is the picture of efficiency. We followed behind for a while then pulled alongside to snap a few more photos. Robic gave a slight wave but was otherwise focused on the road ahead. As we reached El Dorado I could see his motor home ahead. I hoped that Robic would stop so I could ask a question or two, but no, he pedaled by, barely acknowledging his auxiliary crew as they cheered from the roadside. The rain stopped for the moment and just as quickly as it appeared his jacket was off and back in the car. Meanwhile the occasional lightning strikes of the previous ten minutes increased until finally they were constant. We pulled alongside and, I leaned out the window, “Jure, aren’t you afraid of the lightning. He shot me an incredulous look as if that was the stupidest question he’d ever heard and spat out an emphatic “No!” Well, I’m sorry for asking.

I’d hoped that an El Dorado stoplight would hold him so that I could ask another question or two, but no luck. He sped through town with every light green. The lightning increased even more and it was clear that we were right in the center of it! A bolt struck a lamp-post less than a hundred feet from us and the roar of the thunder could be felt through our moving vehicle! Robic’s rain jacket re-appeared and he continued on. Incredible! The intensity of the storm increased. Each lightening flash lit up the sky, revealing the landscape and even the colors of the fields and farms. We pulled ahead of him and waited on a rise, wanting to get one more set of photos. But back on the road we could see the head lights of his follow car—he had stopped. We waited a few minutes and finally turned back, assuming that he’d given in to a perfectly rational fear and had decided to wait out the storm. But no. Just as we reached him he mounted his bike and pedaled off, his silhouetted by a few more flashes as he left.

The experiences of today’s early morning hours have left me in awe. I have seen two of nature’s greatest forces in action. One is just a little more awesome than the other.
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