A Preview & History of The 2013 Tour Divide

On Friday 14th June, riders taking part in the 2013 US Tour Divide will nervously assemble for the Grand Depart of what Outside Magazine dubbed in 2007 'the world's toughest bike race'. After a few anxious moments snapping last minute photos, this hotch-potch peloton of international riders will move towards the car park next to the Banff Springs Hotel to begin an epic 2,740 mile journey to Antelope Wells on the Mexican border.

Race rules for these hardy riders are simple - competitors must be self supported, carrying everything they require, including food, water, tools, clothing and a sleep system. Absolutely no outside support is allowed, excepting provisions purchased at small stores along the way. Riders must follow the route described in the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) route guide and maps which were created during the 1990’s and which now passes through Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.

My history with this route dates back to 1999 or 2000 and an article in Cycling Plus which detailed the new route from Port of Roosville Montana on the Canadian border, 2,500 miles down The Rockies to Antelope Wells on the Mexican border. I was immediately drawn in and hoped one day to do a 6-8 week tour of the route. In 1999 endurance racer John Stamstad was the first person to ride the route in one go in a time of just over 18 days.

A few years later the route was extended by the ACA to Banff in Canada through the remote Flathead valley adding 240 miles to the distance, and over the next couple of years as SPOT GPS trackers became more prevalent racers would carry them allowing themselves to be tracked throughout their journey. I could sit having my lunchtime sandwich and catch up with people racing down The Rockies 4,000 miles away dreaming of a day when I could join them! This technological advancement seemed to increase the popularity of the race, and along with the written word in various publications, by 2009 42 riders took the start line and 48 the following year. The big increase was in 2011, the year when I finally rode the event, when numbers increased to 67 for the Grand Depart from Banff with a further 15 starting from the Southern Terminus of Antelope Wells to ride North. It should be pointed out, even for racers it is possible to start at any time in an Individual Time Trial (ITT) which a number of people do to avoid the melee in the early stages or to get back to the basics of a solo ride. Last year the start list was over 100 and this year in excess of 120 will depart from Banff with a further number of riders setting off on ITT’s.

The course record was set by Matthew Lee (North Carolina) in the 2007 edition of the race and lasted until late 2011. This was partly because the 2010 and 2011 races were affected by snow and fires requiring late route changes from the proscribed route. In August 2011 Jay Petervary (JayP, Idaho) set off on an ITT and finished in 17 days 9 hours 1 minute to take the record. Jay, along with his wife Tracey, already held the tandem record so he was no stranger to the route.

In 2012 two riders set a stunning pace from the start. Olly Whalley (New Zealand) and Craig Stapler (Canada) raced through the wet and cold early stages to establish an early lead which they kept up right into New Mexico. Tragically for Craig he had a pedal issue in Grants which cost him many hours and Olly cycled on to win and smash JayP’s time with a clocking of 16 days 2 hours and 54 minutes with Craig eventually reaching the border 14 hours later.

Joel and Ben in the only shade for miles

JayP, who believes strongly in individual efforts over this course, returned to the event in August 2012, bettering his record with a phenomenal 15 days 16 hours and 4 minutes completion time; made possible by cutting sleep down to a meagre 4 or 5 hours per night.

So who are the contenders and the one’s to watch in 2013? Sometimes it is difficult to assess as the race can throw up people unexpectedly and from this distance you cannot always know who is preparing to do well on the other side of the world. For instance Olly Whalley hoped to break 20 days last year and went onto do just over 16. Here are a few of my picks for Divide glory:

Craig Stapler

Craig is returning after his second place last year and a failed ITT bid in 2011 due to injury. Second last year and riding with ultimate winner Olly Whalley at Grants with just 400 miles to go he must be in with a shout. He recently finished 5th in the Trans Portugal mtb stage race so he has the speed and the long 300km cyclocross weekends in enjoys in the Canadian winter will have provided his endurance.

Mike Hall

Mike from Harrogate is returning to the race. 10th in 2011 after losing nearly 2 days with an achilles problem, he will be back to test himself. Since then he has won the inaugural World Cycle Race averaging 200 miles per day for 3 months. Post-World Cycle Race, Mike has not finished an event, but I suspect this year will be different. At the very least I expect Carl Hutching's UK record of 19 days 11 hours and 19 minutes to be beaten by Mike.

Max Morris

Max (Tucson AZ) must be considered for a good result. He won the AZT750 a 750 bike race through Arizona earlier this year in 7.5 days, 12 hours ahead of the runner up. More relevant, his time was 17 hours quicker than Kurt Sandiforth’s time last year and Kurt went on to place =3rd in the Tour Divide 5 hours behind Craig and 19 behind Olly. Max finished in just under 24 days last year after a very steady start so will know what to expect this year. The AZT750 is an interesting race as it crosses the Grand Canyon and bikes are not allowed in there under National Park rules. Racers have to pack down there bike and carry it down into and back out of the ‘big ditch’!

Cjell Money

Cjell (Colorado) was the first northbound finisher in around 19 days last year and is heading to the Southern Terminus again for another ride north. He will be on a new bike he has built himself and with the experience of last year his performance will be worth following. I doubt he will trouble the big boys but he will provide entertainment.

I shall also be watching the SPOT of James Olsen from the Chilterns who I have had some contact with recently and who has been quietly preparing for a ride down the route, he hopes to finish in 25 days. Good luck James!

The ITT season has already started with the Texan Billy Rice attempting to ride Antelope Wells - Banff - Antelope Wells for an amazing double ride in 40 days. As I write he has been on the trail for 17 days and is near Butte Montana and making his way to Banff before turning around to do it all again.

Paul Attala (Fernie, Canada) who was first North bound rider in 2011 started 3 days before the main race and is aiming for 17 days. Paul and I passed just outside Jackson Hole as I struggled up the pass out of Idaho as he was speeding down into Victor ID the home of JayP.

For some the season is already over. James Kirwan of Dublin scratched at Whitefish Montana just three days into his ride with a knee injury. I was looking to James to put some respectability into my pedestrian Irish record of 28 days. All the riders invest a lot of time and money getting to the start line and having to quit, particularly so early on, must be very difficult. Maybe another year.

Will I return to the race? Probably not, but if I do I think it will be as an ITT as for me I may be quicker on my own without distractions of other riders.

The racers can be tracked here from Friday evening UK time:

Tour Divide Race Tracking

..and a discussion board which usually has a large thread once the race is underway and where you can learn everything you need to know:

Tour Divide Discussion Board

Riders are encouraged to call in and these can be heard here:

Riders from The Tour Divide on the radio

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About the Rider: Blackhound
Now retired, Blackhound can get on with the real business - riding! This un-assuming Derbyshire native completed the Tour Divide race in 2011, and in 2013 aims to ride the Highland Trail Race, traverse Spain in a Spanish border tour and, if all that was not enough, roll along for 1,800 miles of the Tour Divide Route.
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