As the Tour Divide draws near, we decided to reach out to some exceptional athletes, folks that have completed the Tour Divide, some multiple times, and one multiple times in a year. We asked them to provide a couple pieces of Tour Divide advice (in no particular order) that may help you if and when you attempt to complete the ride.  

Jefe Branham: 2012 & 2014 – best time 2014, 1st place – 16d 2h 39m

2014 Tour Divide Results
Photo: Vicki Rystrom
Ride hard, ride fast, ride long, this ain’t no damn picnic so give’er all you got. If you are not going to race as hard as you can, you should show up the next week and tour it. There are many of us, myself included, that wish they could be there racing the divide this year, so take your chance seriously. Be smart, use your noggin, plan ahead, don’t run out of food or water and if you do, HTFU and keep on going. This is most likely a dream trip for most so make it happen, Do Not Quit! Humans are tougher than we think in everyday life, the TD is about overcoming limitations, going beyond what we have done before, be smart and tough and keep the dream alive. Oh yeah keep smiling, love what you are doing even if it hurts!  

Billy Rice: 2012 & 2013 – YOYO finishing time – 44d 42m

Billy Rice No more negative thoughts EVER! Mental strength is the key to success on the divide. Super strong cyclists drop all the time because they allow their mental demons to take control. You have to spend just as much time training the mind as the body. Plan now for what you will do when times get tough. And no matter what, take three weeks!!!!! You might be crawling across the Wyoming basin at three weeks but don’t quit until day 21. If you want to quit then, fine. Otherwise, keep moving forward! Carry more food than you think you need. You can always eat the extra food!  

Chris Plesko: 2009 – 19d 16m, current SS record holder

divide1Let it go, let it go! Bikes will break, it will be snowy and muddy, and you will need to take a nap at 3pm in the afternoon. Your beautiful plan will be derailed. Don’t beat yourself up, just hop back on your bike and keep making forward progress! The weather will be better tomorrow. It’s not necessarily true but just keep telling yourself that. If you keep pushing forward when things are bad then good weather will feel like an amazing gift toward making progress.  

Cjell Mone: NoBo 2012 & 2013, Frisco-Mexico-Frisco 2014 – 2013 time of 15 days, border to border.

IMG_2487 Don’t futurize. Be present. It’s a long race and you will spend two to three weeks in a perpetual state of not arriving. Don’t over estimate your resolve. Listen to body and self. The race is not about how much you can endure but how endurable you can make it.  

Alice Drobna – 2014 Winner – 22:06:36, women’s ss record holder

2014 Tour Divide Results
Photo by Kathy Schoendoerfer
One of the most important things in preparation for TD is a bike fit. You may be surprised how many people do not get one. A proper bike fit may be the difference between finishing and scratching regardless how well prepared you are physically and mentally. Get a bike fit; it’s money well spent. One of the most overlooked things in your repair arsenal is a sewing kit. A simple outdoor strength polyester thread and a couple of needles can not only help sew ripped shorts or frame bags, but are very useful in repairing a slashed tire! Top it off with some super glue and you’re good to go till you can buy another tire.  

Jay Petervary: 4 time finisher, tandem finisher, current record holder 15:16:04

"Get ready to be alone, in the big open country, by yourself, for extended periods of time." -JP
“Get ready to be alone, in the big open country, by yourself, for extended periods of time.” -JP
Be ready and be flexible. It’s nice to have a ‘plan’ before the start but that ‘plan’ can be out the window as soon as one thing goes different, which it will. Being ready to deal with anything and the will to be flexible with your plan will get you to the finish. Set reasonable expectations and don’t get caught up in another persons ride. We all have goals but when we set them to high it can really become a downer when we are not at thought goals. This is where being flexible also comes to play. It’s also easy to get caught up with another rider and let their decisions effect yours – do your own thing!  

Eszter Horanyi: 2012 winner, 19d 3h 35m, women’s record holder

Eszter Horanyi
(Photo by Scott Morris)
Flexibility and adaptability are the key to finishing the TD. The moment you start having expectations of how far you’re going to make it in a day, or how regularly you’re going to eat, or where you’re going to be able to get a room, you’re sunk. Being able to accept what currently is and not lament that it isn’t how you imagined it will help keep your head in the game. Don’t take off from Banff at Mach 7. Everyone does – they jostle for position on the bikepath before the ‘race’ event starts. It’s a long race, you don’t want to be blown by the time you get to Sparwood (and trust me, you’ll see people in Elkford who looked like they just finished a XC race). Don’t look forward to Antelope Wells, instead, look forward to destinations that are in the near future that you want to see. Maybe get excited about seeing The Outdoorsman in Butte, or the wild horses in the Great Basin, or Brush Mountain Lodge in Colorado, or Pie Town in New Mexico. By keeping the goal/reward system fed regularly, it’ll make the trip seem slightly less enormous. It’ll also give you motivation to keep pedaling when you realize that you’re headed for a tiny little outpost in the middle of nowhere that really has nothing exciting to be said for it aside from the possibility of an ice cream bar if the right border agent is there.  

Scott Thigpen 2013 – 23:07:46

Tour Divide Advice Things will break down and mess up almost on a daily basis during along the route.  Your GPS won’t charge, you split your tire wide open, the strap on your Camelbak just snapped, your phone got water damaged.  It is in these moments that remaining positive and knowing the sun will eventually come back out will be key to finishing. Electronics can be replaced, tires can be patched and nitpicky issues will fix themselves, your job is to make it to Antelope Wells.  

Calvin Decker: 2014, 2nd place, 18d 5h 29m

Trans North Georgia There’s more than miles. When planning the day ahead, know what you are getting into, what the elevation profiles look like, what you will be riding over, and what the weather and winds might be doing. 200 miles a day isn’t unreasonable on good roads in flatter sections, with good weather, but other areas 100 miles a day could present more of a challenge. Have food to refuel if you run out of gas before the town you were thinking of. Leave the backpack home! Your butt will thank you. Even a few pounds extra will make a huge difference, when bouncing in the saddle for hours and hours on washboard roads.  

Oliver Whalley: 2012 winner – 16d 2h 46m

Tour Divide Advice
Photo courtesy of Heidi Whalley.
Expectations – Start the Tour Divide with no expectations, or at least as few as possible. This is hard to do, but I found that removing myself from preconceived ideas of what the experience would be like was liberating. It left me free to live each day and make the most of the amazing experience. Failing to meet goals due to circumstances outside your control can be incredibly demotivating, so focus on taking one day at a time. Ankle taping – By far and away the most common (and sometimes ride ending) injury observed is inflammation of the achilles tendon. It can be excruciatingly painful, like pulling your tendon through a ring of broken glass, and you can do yourself permanent damage. Fear not, as it can be nursed into a functional state with some clever use of physio strapping tape. Talk to a friendly local physio before you go and practice ankle taping a couple of times so you know how to do it on the trail. I wouldn’t have finished without this little tidbit of knowledge (thanks Stappler)!  

Jarral Ryter: 2012 – 18d 12h 17m

-vELm22uisMaZcKllP29YIMFT8mQhxKRD3PiH3DsYzQ Listen to your mind, body and bike. Keep them clean and well lubed. As well as you can anyway. Your body, mind and/or your bike will suffer and you may hit lows lower than you know. Things will go wrong or break. Keep the pedals going round. Find a way. You are on an adventure.  

Kurt Refsnider: 2009, 2011 winner, 15d 21h 11m, 2012 tandem

DSCN0116 (1)
Kurt Refsnider is the founder of Ultra MTB Consulting (www.ultraMTB.net) and offers coaching and consulting for ultra endurance cyclists and bikepackers. He is also a geology professor at Prescott College where he teaches Geology through Bikepacking and coaches the Division II collegiate cycling team. (Photo by Ethan Passant)

Arrive for the start in Banff (or Antelope Wells) prepared, fresh, and excited to ride. Training for the Tour Divide is such a mentally taxing affair that it’s easy to tell yourself that you need to squeeze in just a few more big rides in late May. But odds are that you’re head is ready to be done training. Riding has become a bit of a chore. And that immense Tour Divide Monster is fast approaching. By late May, it’s time to back way off the training and make sure your mind becomes fresh and excited to ride again. While physical fitness is a huge ingredient needed for Tour Divide success, mental freshness is at least as important. If your head isn’t in the game, it’s going to be a long way across the country.

Know that the first week or so is going to be tough. After a couple days, your legs will hurt. Your bum will be sore. Your Achilles tendons may start screaming. Your knees will probably ache. And your sleep-deprived head will start to question the sanity of such an endeavor. But trust that things will get better. For me, getting beyond Butte, Montana on around day 5 represents an important milestone. Within a day past Butte, my body begins to come around, riding starts to feel easier, the topography gets a bit less harsh, the rain lets up, and I begin to smile more. And from my impressions of watching the dots on Trackleaders for years now, it seems that statistically, if a rider makes it past Butte, they are going to make it to Mexico. So push through the tough first week and you’ll most likely find bluer skies (literally and figuratively) beyond.

Kurt Sandiforth 2013 – 16d 22h 4m, current triple crown record holder

553232_386819748041641_998807970_nDon’t fall asleep on the bike, that can hurt. If the sleep demons are upon you, and you can’t exercise them by singing or smacking yourself in the face… get off and walk. Walking is still forward movement and forward movement is essential. I’ve woke up plenty of times holding onto my bike standing in a ditch not knowing how long or far I’d gone. Do that a couple times and you feel rested and can start racing again.
When you take route side dirt naps. Keep your helmet on, it makes a nice pillow.
Limit your gear, run light. Use jersey pockets instead of a backpack. Don’t bother with extra clothes, wash and ride them dry. Carry only absolute emergency spare parts, worn replacements can be gotten along the way. Less stuff means more room for breakfast burritos.
Stay on route. The fastest way to loose a bunch of time is off route floundering. Keep as close as you can, sleep trail side and shop in rock throwing distance.
Think about being stuck in an office? Standing in line at the DMV? Making out with your mother in law? Getting a pedicure by a hairy, overweight Bulgarian with only a meat cleaver and a garden trowel at his disposal? So much of it, is a mental game and you just gotta keep moving. Stay strong and keep pedaling.

Those tears of joy at the finish line are some of the best you’ll have ever allowed for yourself.

2 Comments

  1. Great article, inspiring and a bit frightening.

  2. Great bits of wisdom. Trying to map out the TD for 2018. Thanks for sharing.

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