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It’s a Long Way, Baby: The Great Divide Might Be the Hardest Race There Is

By Adam Marsal

Do you find daily commuting too boring? Try something bigger. What about the 4,339km-long Great Divide race from Canada to the US-Mexican border? Or do you prefer Trans Am Bike Race from the West Coast to the East Coast with a total length of more than seven thousand kilometres? As both events start in only a couple of days, it’s too late to enrol. But you can think about it for the next year.

The world’s biggest mountain bike race will start only a few days from now, precisely on the 11th of June. It’s called the “Great Divide” tour. It’s a 4,339-kilometres-long race down the Continental Divide from Banff in Canada to Antelope Wells in New Mexico at the Mexican border. It’s solo and unsupported. No entry fee, no prizes. Only the strong can withstand.

The name of the race comes from the geographical term Great Divide, a natural boundary line that separates waters that flow into the Atlantic Ocean from those that flow into the Pacific Ocean. Along the divide, there runs the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which is the most recognized and important off-pavement cycling route in the United States, if not the world.

The route is REALLY long.

It was tirelessly mapped over a 4-year span, and published in 1998 by Adventure Cycling Association, North America’s premiere bicycle travel organization. The route is highlighted by long dirt roads and jeep trails that wend their way through forgotten passes. By route’s end a thru-rider will climb more than 45,000 meters of vertical – equivalent to summiting Mount Everest from sea-level 5 times.

Divide racers must not only be conditioned to endure weeks of consecutive 16+ hour days in the saddle, they need to bring other skills to the trail. The route is unmarked and circuitous, requiring navigational acumen. It travels through remote backcountry with Grizzly and Mountain Lion density. Intervals between services are frequently 100+ miles and demand calculated food and water resupply. Riders must also find shelter each night or bivouac trailside. In minutes the Rockies’ dynamic mountain weather can wreak havoc on route surfaces, skewing even the most near-term travel projections. And even among the racers everyone has their own goals – some 80 miles a day, some 160, a very few more.

And then there’s Trans Am. The race is gearing up for its 3rd season of sending off self-supported road racers on a 7,000+ km journey across the United States. Born out of a desire to race on roads with techniques and ethics based in the world of ultra endurance bikepacking events, the Trans Am stands as the middle ground between events like Race Across America and Tour Divide. For the Trans Am, the rules are simple, riders race under their own power, self-supported. This means no outside assistance, no support cars, and no drafting. The course record stands at just over 16.5 days and racers typically are expected to aim for a race time not much more than double!

Great Divide in numbers

Distance: 4,339 km

Days: 15+

Unpaved: 90%

Singletrack: 5%

Difficulty (1-10): 7

Total Ascent: 45,618 m

High Point: 3,631 m

Great Divide: http://tourdivide.org

Trans Am: http://transambikerace.com