As the Race Across America cyclists charge eastward with their teammates or support crews or both, there's an equally amazing corps of cyclists heading down the spine of the Continental Divide individually and with no support whatsoever.
The Tour Divide got underway from Banff, Alberta, with 48 mountain bike riders on Friday (video at left). They're heading along the spine of the Rocky Mountains to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, on gravel roads and dirt paths for a distance of 2,745 miles.
Compare and contrast
You could draw comparisons between the two races all day long. For instance:
— They're both ultra-endurance events whose winners measure success by hours spent not sleeping.
— Both aim for the lightest rides possible. Weight issues stop with the frame and components for RAAM cyclists; Tour Divide bicyclists must factor in tools, food and cooking equipment, sleeping bags and more.
— Support teams follow the RAAM cyclists in vans or RVs; Tour Divide riders are just “out there” and cannot rely on any personal support.
— Both groups must deal with the weather and other natural elements as they make their to the finish line.
— The RAAM route is a fairly direct west-to-east line across the US that often uses freeways and major roads. Tour Divide bikers find themselves on the dirt tracks and gravel roads of the twisty-turny Great Divide Mountain Bike Route created several years ago by Adventure Cycling Association.
How to follow
Just as with RAAM, there's several ways to check the progress of these solo cyclists.
All the bicycles are affixed with GPS devices that tracks their progress every 10 minutes. You can check their locations on a map at the Leaderboard at Tour Divide website. The TourDivide blog updates include summaries from race organizers and podcasts from the bikers themselves.
Although 48 started on Friday, five had pulled out through Tuesday afternoon due to injury or sickness.
Among Tour Divide cyclists remaining in the race is Seattle area bicyclist Kent Peterson. I wrote about his departure by bicycle from Issaquah a couple of weeks ago with about a dozen well-wishers.
Calling in to the podcast on Monday, Peterson said his “strategy” of riding slow has worked so far, as he has had lots of track to follow through snowy patches on the trail.
“As you race fans have probably figured out, my strategy is to start out slow, and then I back off.”
He's enjoying the mountains and the scenery… “There's no better way to see them than from the seat of a bicycle.” You also follow his updates from Kent's Bike blog.
According to the Leaderboard, all the Tour Divide bikers still racing appear to have passed out of Canada and are stretched out in a que through Montana.
Five-time winner Matthew Lee of Carrboro, North Carolina, is leading the bunch, followed rather closely by Erik Lobek of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Last year, Lee finished the bike race in 17 days, 23 hours. The last cyclist to finished rolled into Antelope Wells 13 days later.
As for the other racers from Washignton state — Eric Bruntjen of Roslyn, Brett Foster of Kirkland, Dave Preston of Seattle, Mike Prochaska of North Bend, and Derek Richert of Seattle — they're all still listed as being in the race at the Tour Divide website at MTBcast.com.