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Race Across Russia An Uphill Climb For Bloomington Cyclist

The Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme, starting July 18, is the longest and most difficult bike race in the world. Bloomington-Normal resident Thursday Gervais is training to be the first woman solo competitor in this 5,700-mile, 24-day race from Moscow to Vladivostok. Factor in weather, road conditions, and elevation climb and the race sounds impossible, but it's not. 

"Last year, three males finished the race, I think," said Gervais. "They only allow 15 people to enter and I think that's because they don't want it so spread out."  

Spread out, like, across Russia. The race is broken out into sections, or stages. Gervais said the shortest stage is 200 kilometers. The longest is more than 1200 kilometers, or 745 miles. 

"That's the one that keeps me up at night. I'll be on my bike 62 to 72 hours riding through the night, no sleep. Nutrition is important. The elevation climb on that one is intense," said Gervais.  

The total elevation gain during the 2016 race, that crossed the Ural Mountains, was more than 49 miles. The word "extreme" is the in the title of the race for a reason, but this isn't Gervais' first such event. Her longest continuous competitive ride to date was about 1,000 kilometers. And while she's a solo competitor, she not alone. 

"Volkswagen is supporting all of our sprint vans for us—that's included in our race entry. There's a medical truck. The medical truck is full of doctors. They'll test you, they'll pull you aside if they see you're struggling or see that your heart rate data is through the roof. Then there's a separate food truck. There's a mechanical staff. My sprinter van and with my drivers and my race manager," said Gervais. There's also a masseuse.

With endurance events, there are breaks, but not too long or Gervais said riders will stiffen up. Nutrition will generally be consumed, most likely in liquid form, while pedaling.  

Credit Thursday Gervais
Gervais on the trainer in her home.

Training for the July race means Gervais is already pedaling 8-11 hours a day. She's starting to shift to more outdoor riding, but most of her riding until recently has been indoors on bike set up for stationary pedaling. She's aiming to transition to 18 to 24 hour outdoor rides soon. 

As for her physical condition, Gervais is training with the monitoring of doctors. She said there's some conflict with her doctors because she's training medication free, despite having survived ovarian cancer 4 years ago. 

"I still have some physical challenges because of it," said Gervais. "I have osteopenia and I think that's due to some of the things I went through treatmentwise." Osteopenia is bone density disorder, but not to the degree of osteoporosis. 

She said having survived cancer gives her a mental boost while training. "When I was laying there sick, I said this isn't me. I'm not going to let this define me."

The ride is also raising money for her race manager Denile Hill, who has survived two kidney transplants. 

"I asked her to be my manager and she agreed and she said, 'Hey look, since you always do a charity connected can we do the National Kidney Foundation?' and I said, 'Absolutely.'"

A fundraiser to benefit the National Kidney Foundation on May 7 at the Cleveland Velodrome will auction a custom built Jon Tallerico track bike. 

Hill will help Gervais achieve her goal of being the first woman to finish the Trans-Siberian Extreme.

"There's only going to be one first and I want that to be me," said Gervais.

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