“I grew up in Denmark, which is a big cycling nation,” explains Tobias Gehrke. But I never cycled for sport. I was more into football. Then I ruined my knee, and I got into running”.
Unfortunately, recurring injuries eventually also forced Tobias to stop competing in marathons. However, this negative outcome would soon draw him towards a new passion for cycling.
“A friend from business school had always said we should do the Race Across America (RAAM),” explains Tobias. This non-stop dash from one side of the United States to the other covers around 4,800km and is among the world’s most arduous ultra-endurance events. Having just left his job in finance and looking for a new challenge, Tobias decided he’d take up his friend’s suggestion despite having almost no cycling experience. “It was RAAM that got me into cycling,” says Tobias. “It’s the challenge that attracted me.
I like having something to work towards”. Tobias threw himself in at the deep end without hesitation. However, he wouldn’t be alone. Soon rounding up seven other riders, Tobias contacted his friend Matteo Cassina, the owner of Passoni, about equipping the team for the race. “It’s not easy to get seven other people to agree to buy a Passoni,” explains Tobias. “It’s a big investment. But Matteo kindly agreed to sponsor us and built the team’s entire fleet of Titanio Classica bikes at cost”.
For riders on larger teams, RAAM consists of a series of short efforts. As the squad progresses in the support vehicles, riders get on the road and go all out for as little as ten minutes. Once they’re done, they’re replaced by a teammate. Handing over a virtual baton, in this way, the vast span of the USA is bridged in thousands of individual steps. “Once you do RAAM, you realise you need to do it again. But in other ways, you also don’t want to do it,” says Tobia. “I had this idea that I’d get seven friends together, and we’d have this great trip across the US to raise money for charity, that we’d ride together and see the country. It quickly became apparent that that’s not what Race Across America is about”.
While logistics proved one of the most complex elements for the team, they completed the notoriously tough race and secured a respectable placing. At the same time, they managed to excel in other areas. “We knew we weren’t gonna win RAAM,” says Tobias. “But we knew we could win the fundraising award”. Applying the team’s financial knowledge, its riders set up Athletes Without Frontiers and raised over $500,000 to support girls’ education in Kenya. Since that brutal introduction, cycling has become Tobias’ primary sport. Happily, he isn’t short of great riding as he lives in Geneva. “Right out my door, I can head by the lake and end up at the top of the Col de La Faucille, which has appeared in the Tour de France several times. It’s 25km uphill, then the same back down. That’s my go-to ride”.
Tobias also makes regular forays to the south of France and the States to visit family and takes his Passoni whenever possible. Since racing at RAAM, Tobias has also involved himself in projects that attempt to maximise the benefits of sport for individuals and society. “The reason I got hired for my first job in finance was that I’d played football,” explains Tobias. Goldman Sachs had identified elite sports and military people as having these skills that are very hard to teach”. “I did equity derivatives, which I knew nothing about before I started. It’s actually something you can be taught in three months as there are only so many permutations.
But perseverance and these skills you get through sports make picking such things up easier. Going over and over again. Training over and over and not stopping or giving up. Those skills you learn as an athlete or through cycling are much harder to teach in a classroom. Maximising their benefits is one of my passions”.