The toughest bicycle race in the world is not in France.
So say the organizers of Ride The Divide, an offroad bicycle race from Banff, Canada to the U.S.-Mexico border. The 2008 edition of this race was recently documented in a film by the same title.
The race covers over 2,700 miles and 200,000 feet of climbing along the Continental Divide, from which the ride gets its name. Almost all of the race is on dirt roads, goat paths or snowblocked trails. There are no designated rest stops or “stages” scheduled for each day. The clock runs nonstop and riders sleep, eat, and ride whenever they want. It’s extremely brutal. Only 100 riders have ever attempted this race. 40 of them have actually finished it.
The race reminds me of the Tour de France’s early days. Henri Desgrange, the TdF’s original Race Director, prided himself on finding brutally tough routes for the riders. Like Ride The Divide, Desgrange forbid the formation of teams or support crews and required all riders to be “self-supported.” Unlike the TdF, the term self-supported takes on a different meaning when riders must travel through huge tracts of uninhabited mountain country. If your bike breaks, you deal with it. If you run out of water, you figure it out. If there’s no hotel, you sleep on the ground. If you can find a shower, that’s great. It’s pretty hardcore, is what I’m trying to say.
The 2008 race had 16 riders. The film focuses on three: Matt (the eventual winner), Mary (the first female to complete the race), and Mike (a 40-something who nurses his failing knees well into Colorado before abandoning). While it is obvious this ride will challenge even the most fit and accomplished cyclist, it is interesting to watch fatigue and even boredom weigh on the riders. The ones who are best able to cope with the mental aspects are the ones who succeed. Nine riders did not finish.
The film is 80 minutes long and features some great scenery along with some interesting storylines. I saw it on streaming video from Netflix and it was well worth my time.