Look for Andrew Willis, director of the Driveway Bike Race Series, to show off his long-distance cycling chops at the upcoming RAAM Challenge Series in Marble Falls.
Willis, 39, won the 400-mile version of the race last year, speeding over the Texas Hill Country course in an impressive 22 hours and 59 minutes, despite getting lost along the way.
He used the race as a tuneup for an even longer race, the 860-mile Race Across the West from Oceanside, California, to Durango, Colorado. That one didn’t go so well – he had to pull out partway through.
“We weren’t prepared for the heat of the desert,” Willis said of Race Across the West. “It got up to 123 degrees. I lost 11 pounds in sweat and ended up in the hospital, where they put five bags of saline back into me overnight.”
He struggled at another long-distance race last summer, but after taking some time to heal, he finished the season strong, winning the 503-mile Tejas 500 in Glen Rose in September and the 400-mile No Country For Old Men in the Big Bend in October. Then, in November, he took fifth overall (and third in his age group) in the 24-Hour World Championship in California, pedaling 456 miles in 23 hours and 54 minutes.
“I think I’m more proud of that fifth at World’s than the other results, and it was my first time to go toe to toe with some of the bigger names from Europe,” Willis said.
Now he’s gearing up for a new season, starting with the Marble Falls race next weekend and a second attempt at Race Across the West in June. (And did we mention he’s kicking off this year’s Driveway Race Series on March 17?)
“We really didn’t know what we were doing,” Willis said of last year’s RAAM Challenge. “I believe I can return this year and complete the course in 21:00 to 21:30. I have a great crew and some great sponsors.”
The Marble Falls race – which offers 200- and 400-mile team or solo options – serves as a qualifier for the epic 3,000-mile Ride Across America, which starts in Oceanside, California, and finishes in Annapolis, Maryland.
And that’s something Willis says he’s been considering for 2017. An American hasn’t won the race in more than 15 years, and some in the local cycling community say Willis is the rider to bring the title back home.
Willis, a national champion who raced in Europe in the 1990s, all but quit bike racing after he took over the Driveway series, got married and had two children. He built the event into the largest weekly bike race series in the country but started losing control of his own fitness. He began racing again in 2012 and has cycled his way back into shape.
To register for the RAAM Challenge Series in Marble Falls, go here.