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Race Across America is almost 1,000 miles longer than the Tour de France and has no planned rest stops. Many of the top competitors in the solo race sleep for only two hours each night during the 12 continuous days of cycling. The race takes place on public roads and a rule prohibits drafting, adding to the difficulty.

Cortez Black And White

Cortez Black And White

In a study on the caloric expenditure of the Tour de France in 1988, Dutch researchers found an average use of 8,000 calories per day, meaning a total energy expenditure of 168,000 calories over the race. That would be the equivalent of burning off 48 pounds of human weight if the calories were not replenished.

"The thing that's most difficult about these things is actually inside your own head," Hopkins says. "Miserable conditions, rain, dark, you're in the middle of nowhere, it's really boring. All you have to think about is how much your leg hurts."

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Even seasoned pros are challenged by the 25 mph average speed and 21 days of racing at the Tour. Time trials, endless flats and grueling mountain stages make up the 2,140 mile "contest in purposeless suffering," as Lance Armstrong called it in his first autobiography.

The intensity of riding consistently at the lactate threshold, which causes greater physical hurt per mile, also adds to the race's difficulty. "If you look at the guys on the Tour, if you look Nike Cortez Classic Og Leather Qs White Sport Red

´╗┐World's Hardest Bicycle Races

Pros competing in the Tour have support groups, trainers, managers and medical staff on hand. A rider in the Race Across America typically has a crew of 8 to 12 people and two to four vehicles. The Great Divide Race, on the contrary, has one central principle: do it all yourself.

"Conditions can be anywhere from 33 degrees and freezing rain to as low as 56 ambient temperature during the race," which can change the trails from easy to ride hard pack to slushy powder, says race organizer Bill Merchant.

"If you look at it visually, they're obviously under a great deal of physiological stress."

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At 1,110 miles, the Iditarod Invitational in Alaska is neither the longest nor the fastest race in the world. But with the race running from a starting location near Anchorage across the entire Iditarod Trail to Nome in the middle of winter, the race Nike Cortez Classic Leather Red/White

Cortez Black And White

Cortez Black And White

Organizers of many popular endurance bike races, including the Race Across America, Tour de France, Great Divide and others bill their events as "the world's toughest bike race." But which one truly deserves that distinction?

The race begins on June 11 on the Canadian border of British Columbia and ends at Antelope Wells, New Mexico, at the Mexican border. Navigational help, food supplies from a team, logistic support and replacement bikes are forbidden. Competitors can buy food and stay at hotels, if they like, but otherwise they're on their own.

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In reality, "toughness" is subjective meaning none of the races can claim that title. "You're just comparing apples and oranges at some point," says Mark Eller, a spokesman for the International Nike Cortez Metallic Bronze

The weather, trails and conditions are so difficult that the Iditarod Invitational may also be one of the slowest races in the world. The course record is 15 days, 1 hour and 15 minutes, making the average speed just over 3 mph, if you factor in time spent off the bike. In comparison, the Race Across America's cumulative average speed is 13.98 mph.

Susan Hopkins, a professor at the University of California San Diego who has studied the effects of intense performance on athletes, agrees. "Even running 100 meters is tough if you do it well," she says.

The race is so intense that one participant even developed pulmonary edema, in which fluid fills Cortez Black And White the lungs. Dr. Andrew Luks, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington, found the rider's high salt intake during the race caused the problem. "He took in so much salt, his kidney couldn't regulate it and he started accumulating extra salt," Luks says. That eventually led to a fluid buildup in his lungs. The rider was treated and recuperated fully.

Since the race began in 2000, only 19 bicyclists have successfully completed the race. Sometimes the trail will disappear entirely and the bicyclists will have to work together to break a new trail through thick powder, as they did in this year's race.

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Using a heart rate monitor on a fourth place finisher in the 2003 race, Swiss researchers found an average caloric expenditure of 17,965 calories per day, burning a total of 179,650 calories throughout the race.

Mountain Biking Association.

at their faces, it's really apparent the toll that takes on their bodies," Hopkins says.

is by far one of the world's toughest.

Despite similar muscle fatigue and caloric demands from races like the Tour de France and the Race Across America, the way they exact a toll on the body is different, Hopkins says. At an average speed of 15 mph with the Race Across America, the body is mostly burning fat. In a race like the Tour de France, in which the average speed breaks 25 mph, athletes function near their athletic maximum for five to six hours at a time, which increases lactic acid.

Cortez Black And White

Cortez Black And White

Although there's no way to prove which bike races are the toughest in the world, we're throwing caution to the wind.

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