Their job is to ensure the rider can focus completely on riding. They keep him on the right roads; pull alongside him for a maximum of one minute four times per hour to hand him food (a 10,000-calorie-per-day liquid diet) and water (three gallons daily); dress, undress and bathe him during rest times; and keep him abreast of tactics and weather conditions.

Strasser's veteran crew, observers say, goes the extra mile: They blast German techno-pop over a set of loudspeakers, crack jokes into his headset, dress up in bizarre costumes to make him laugh and share brain teasers to ensure he's alert, awake and in good spirits.

"Over the span of a week, a good crew can carve hours off your time," Boswell said.

It's not uncommon for riders to encounter rain and hail, sandstorms or tornadoes, slick roads, gravel patches and traffic jams all on the same journey — "the race doesn't get easier just because you've done it before," Strasser said — but no challenge is more taxing than the physical side.

Cramps, tendinitis and dehydration are common, especially during the race's second half. Two riders have been killed and one paralyzed in traffic accidents.

Seana Hogan, a California computer programmer who has won the women's solo competition a record six times, had to withdraw this year after a sandstorm in Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah state line affected her breathing.

"I had to think of my long-term health," she told race officials. "That's RAAM."

Some racers suffer from so-called Shermer Neck, a condition unique to marathon cycling that can suddenly occur after several hundred miles when, in effect, the neck muscles give out so thoroughly, the rider can't lift his or her head.

Since only 48 hours' rest can cure it, those who want to press on must be creative. Riders have used poles, straps, braces and even rubber bands attached between their hair and their backs to hold their heads upright as they pedal on.

And hallucinations are part of the game.

Jure Robic, the late Slovenian legend who won the race five times, was known to "leap off his bicycle to do battle with threatening attackers who turned out to be mailboxes," wrote The New York Times after he was killed in an accident while training in his home country in 2006.

Strasser said one must deal with the visions.

Over the past few days, he said, he saw hundreds of small mailboxes that looked to him like people waving, and oil pumps in Colorado seemed like crew members putting air in his tires.

"No one [seemed to be] attacking me," he said with a laugh a few minutes after finishing.

Strasser's average speed over the race, 15.56 mph, topped Penseyres' mark, set in 1986, by 0.16 mph, and his total time beat the record of 8 days, 3 hours and 11 minutes, set by Rob Kish in 1992.

Insiders who drove along with the champion said he had several factors in his favor.

His sponsor, the Austrian sausage maker Wiesbauer, pays him enough that he can train year-round, not to mention handle the roughly $50,000 it takes to finance the adventure. He took full advantage, working for months, for example, on mastering a lower crouch that few riders can sustain over long distances.

Weather conditions also were unusually good — even usually windy Kansas was mild — and Strasser, who won RAAM in 2011 but failed to finish last year, came to the United States in the spring to get the feel of the last 500 miles.

"It's invaluable for these guys to be able to visualize the end," said Vic Armijo, a RAAM photographer.

Added Armijo: "I can't say I'm totally surprised. Christoph is a great athlete who does everything the right way. I see this as his efforts coming to fruition."

RAAM's executive director, Rick Boethling, had a simpler analysis: "He's flat-out good."

A crowd of about 100 cheered as Strasser crossed the finish line not far from Phillips Seafood. His crew appeared as if out of nowhere to mob him and sing in German, and racing officials congratulated him in a series of speeches under a tent.

Strasser, his knee bleeding from a "slight spill" in the Appalachians overnight, said the record was such a great honor that he couldn't describe it yet.

For the time being, his plans were more pedestrian.

"I'm going to sleep and eat," he said, "and get the biggest steak available."