Well, it’s that time of year again. Time for my third attempt at the Tour Divide. Two years ago bailed with asthma. Last year got 2,500 km into the race when my mother broke her hip and I had to withdraw to help her. So here is hoping that the saying ‘three times lucky’ applies to Tour Dividers.
A quick summary … the Tour Divide is a self-supported ‘time trial’ where you ride your bike 4,418 km from Banff to Mexico along the Rocky Mountains. There is no outside support and the objective is to ride your bike as fast as you can to the Mexican border, never deviating more than one mile from the mapped course. There is a ‘Grand Depart’ from Banff at 08:00 on the second Friday in June, but you can ride it any time you like as long as you follow the rules. In fact Billy Rice from Texas is trying to set a record this year by being the first to ride from Mexico – Banff – Mexico. Yes, that is just under 9,000 km of continuous riding.
With just under a week to the race, time to update the blog … I’ve trained, my bike is ready, and I’m mentally ready for it.
The training plan was simple: to ride my bike as much as possible. Unfortunately, one cannot really put in enough hours for the Tour Divide. In order to make the 24 day, 8 h cut off for the race, one has to basically average 180 km/day of riding. My goal is 23.5 days so that is more like 190 km/day of riding. Or about 120 miles a day if your are an American.
I designed a training program from some of Jesper Bondo’s work. His site www.training4cyclists.com is the singularly best resource that I have found for cycle training. It probably helps that I’m into interval training. It basically saw me riding 3-4 hours a day 3-4 times a week, with some long days as well. I was fortunate to be in New Zealand for six continuous weeks which give me some spectacular outdoor rides. My wife’s bed and breakfast is near Nelson and there are a number of really good rides in the area. Here are a few photos. Not a bad place to ride … When the weather was bad I used my Computrainer. Did the Ironman Louisville course too many times … it’s ideal with a 30 min flat warm up then lots of hills. I also managed to watch the entire catalog of James Bond films
I had two large overtraining blocks planned. One was to do an extended set of ‘Sufferfest’ DVDs, and the other a 625 km ride along the C&O Canal in Washington D.C.
My Sufferfest plan didn’t eventuate due to injury. When Lis and I went to the Marlborough Sounds in February I had an accident and hurt my knee. Badly. I was walking my mountain bike along a narrow section of track and the edge collapsed. My knee was put into an extension that it had not been since 1987 when I had four operations on it. Four months later it still hasn’t come right. It’s about 85% back, which is good enough for me. Just meant that I decided not to do anything as stressful as the Sufferfest. I didn’t want to exacerbate my injury.
So that left the C&C Canal. I had to spend ten days in Washington D.C. for work before the race. Lis and I had enjoyed riding parts of the canal and I had always wanted to do the full 300 km from D.C. to Cumberland. It connects with the Alleghany trail to Pittsburgh and I considered going all the way through. But it was easier logistically to do a return trip. So I decided to be nice to my knee and do it over an easy three and a half days.
When I mentioned to my friend Mike Kerley, who rode with me last year on the Tour Divide, he offered to join me. Mike pulled out shortly after I did when the drive belt on his bike disintegrated. He’s decided next time he races he will use a new belt. Lis and I had dinner with him and his wife Katherine last year and our wives are a lot alike—longsuffering comes to mind.
With his son graduating from middle-school late June, he is unable to ride this year but you wouldn’t know it from his training. He is riding some 4 h a day to and from work he is such a strong rider. So of course rather than an easy three and a half days, we ramped it up and had a good hard ride. Leaving D.C. at 13:00 on Thursday, we did a 160 km ride to Williamsport MD, then 235 km to Cumberland and back to Hancock, then 220 km back to Mike’s place in Arlington. Over 600 km in two days and seven hours. Not bad, even if the ride was flat. This is Mike on the right, as always pulling me along.
The video below shows what it was like. Apologies for the background noise and heavy breathing.
The ride was a good shakedown for the Tour Divide. Not only from a fitness point of view (or lack thereof) but also for shaking down my equipment. While I’d been riding with a full rig quite a bit in New Zealand, there is nothing quite like a hard run to show up any problems. Take my tyres…
I was running WTB Vulpines at the recommendation of Ollie Whalley who used them last year to win the race. He didn’t have a single puncture. Before I left NZ I had a small staple puncture my rear tyre. Then on the ride I get a stick through the tread. A stick. Not a steel pin. But a piece of wood. The good thing is that my Stan’s sealant actually worked this time and with some air in the tyre I was able to make it 30 km to Cumberland to the bike shop where they said the hole was too large to plug and the tire was toast. So they fitted a new tyre and tube for the trip home. They were quite excited to look at Mike’s bike with his Roloff hub—and the fact we both ex-Tour Dividers.
The other problem I had was with my front fork. It wouldn’t fully lock in so I decided it needed a replacement. It is handy having last year’s Tour Divide winner as my employee so I called Ollie from the hotel at 22:00, gave him my credit card, and Monday morning a nice new carbon shock arrived at my hotel in D.C. Yes, a rigid carbon. While I’m a bit concerned about not having a front shock, the advantage is that it’s lighter, and Ollie insists that it will ride so smoothly I won’t miss the shock. Also one lest thing go to wrong …
Here are some photos from the ride. Highly recommended.
We took White’s Ferry across the Potomac and then the W&OD Canal Trail back to Arlington. It was great to revisit my old stomping ground. When we lived in Arlington I’d often do a 100 mile circuit, leaving early in the morning. I’d call Lis from the ferry and wake her up, telling her that she was missing a great morning. The only problem was that it was seriously hot—34 degrees C (93 F) and I suffered some serious melt down. When the temperature dropped to only 28 it was worth at lest 5 km/h more in speed. We ended the day with a great dinner prepared by Katherine and then a very deep sleep in Mike’s basement. A great trip with great company. It went by all too quickly …
I’ve posted before on my bike and I won’t go into too much detail again, but:
- Motobecane Titanium 29’er with Shimano XTR 30 speed
- Stan’s Arch EX Rims with a Son generator hub in the front, and DT Swiss in the rear
- Specialized Fast Track Control tyres. I’ve given up on the Vulpine’s and e-mailed Absolute Bikes in Colorado as to what they recommend. Hope they are better judges than Ollie
- Thudbuster LT seatpost
- Garmin 800 GPS
- Specialized Speedzone trip computer
- Ergon cork E3 grips
Mike was insistent that I needed to cut down on weight so I went through my packing list with a fine tooth comb and following his advice made a number of cuts. The bike and all gear except food and water comes in at about 22 kg, 45 lbs.
It’s unfortunate that I’ve had to make these changes so late in the game, but better now than during the ride.
After having trained, and getting the bike ready, the third dimension is one’s head space. This is where many of us lose before we start. Ollie has been drilling into me that I need to finish in 23.5 days. I’ve been focusing on how to do that and am in the right head space.
The Tour Divide is tough on one physically, and for my third try I’m unfortunately going in injured. At least my ride with Mike showed that my knee injury responds well to the combination of Voltarin 100 SR anti-inflammatory pills and Tyleonol, and it can also take sustained moderate efforts. Last year I had some Achilles problems and I’ve found a BRD Achilles ankle brace works really well so hopefully they shouldn’t act up.
So here’s hoping that around July 8th I’ll be able to repeat what Ed Hillary said when he summited Mt. Everest: “we knocked the bastard off”. Three times lucky … here’s hoping.