All the Gravel You Can Eat – Tour Divide 2016
A long time ago, in a country not so far away, a border-to-border off-road touring route was created along the Great Divide in the USA – the watershed from East to West. Inevitably, someone had to be the first to ride it from end-to-end and the GDMBR was created – the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race. Over the years this morphed with the addition of the Canadian section to become the Tour Divide, the longest unpaved mapped touring route in the world. This Friday at 8:00 a.m. local time in Banff sees the annual gathering of riders for the Grand Depart of the Tour Divide.
What was once a truly underground race has become a little more mainstream of late – the advent of the internet, social media and easier access to route beta has turned this from a once logistical nightmare – into simply, a logistical mountain. Oh, don’t forget the important part – ride your bike for 2,800 miles assuming there are no trail diversions to add more miles; stay totally self supported; go through the highest concentration of black and brown bears in the continental US; and of course – to try and do it as fast as you can.
It’s not a race per say; no entry fee, no backup, no support – but if you have more than two riders on the same route, with the same target, well…it will turn into a race. The current route record, or fastest known time (FKT) to use ultrarunning and through-hiking parlance, is a shade over 14 days, 11 hours and 37 minutes. I’ll let you work out the average daily miles.
This year, over 150 mostly normal people are due to toe the “not’a’startline” in Banff this coming Friday at 8am (3pm GMT). Among them will be our very own Greg May who’s been putting this off for far too long since Jenn Hopkins suggested he should do it.
With over 20 riders from the UK due to ride this year, it will be a bit of an invasion for a country that is not blessed with the altitude, gravel, or desert riding that the Divide is renowned for, and should make for some interesting accents amoung all the normal US twangs.
This year it really is a stacked field. UK rider Mike Hall is back once again, hopefully aiming for another repeat of his stunning ride in 2013 which saw him at the Mexican border in 14 days, 11 hours and 55 minutes – but due to trail diversions from fires in the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico, his journey was not classified as a FKT. After his spate of phenomenal rides on longer road events like the TransAm and TransContinental – who knows what Mike is capable of now and we wish him well.
Last year’s winner, and the current record holder, Josh Kato is back and having dropped a significant amount of weight off his kit has been shy saying if he’s planning to go fast, a man who is back for his third time – with a 50% finish rate, is smart to do so. Current single-speed record holder Chris Plesko who set a stunning time in 2009 of 19 days, 00 hours and 21 minutes is back again and will have some competition from some strong SS riders. Unfortunately the women’s record holder Lael Wilcox, 17 days, 01 hours and 51 minutes, is currently off crushing the TransAm and won’t be there. Unless she decides to do both, like when she raced the Divide twice last year, after riding to the start from Anchorage in Alaska.
For those interested more or less real time tracking via SPOT trackers can be found at Trackleaders.com with the SPOTs updating every 10mins or so – a little tent under a rider means they have stopped for about 4hrs.
Look for a story in future issues of grit.cx, assuming Greg doesn’t get eaten by a bear.