Compared to the Tour Divide, the Tour de France is for weenies.

Compared to the Tour Divide, the Tour de France is for weenies.

by Doyle Ranstrom on Jul 11, 2021

For the record, I did one bike race and in my estimation, I won it.  It was a long time ago when I just getting into biking.  

During that time period, many states were putting on the equivalent of local olympic games and I decided to enter Minnesota's bike race event because it was being held in lakes country not far from Fargo.  The event consisted of a time trial and then a 65-mile race.   The 5-mile time morning trial was a clue to the rest of the day.  I was passed so many times I kept spitting to see if I was moving.  

The race started at 1:00 was and instead of 250+ participants, there were 39 riders who regularly raced on weekends and me.  I borrowed a racing bike with clipless pedals which I never used before. I clipped in and quickly realized if one is clipped in on a bicycle and has not mastered clipping out, it is possible to tip over right in front of the race starter.  Not good.  

I was told before the race to stay with the pack.  Sadly, no one told the pack I should stay with them.  The race started and there were two packs, a large one of 39 racers and one very small one consisting of me.  On a hot humid day in August, as we rolled thru the hills and by lakes, I would occasionally catch glimpses of the pack.  Or could have been geese, hard to tell at that distance.  Anyway, I finally finished and in my mind won. The winner should be the person who spends the most time on the bike.  Oh, and when I get official race results, it turned out I was less than 5 minutes behind the last group.  

Most of us are familiar with the Tour de France.  It is the premier bike race in the world. 2,100+ miles over 21 days with two rest days and total prize money approaching $3 Million dollars US.  There are multiple teams with each highly supported team working together to help one of their team members win the ultimate the Tour with its prize money and recognition.  The tour winner is often average 25 mph four the tour and keep in mind, this is thru multiple mountain ranges.  The Tour is an incredible challenge with elite athletes.  

But compared to the Tour Divide, in my estimation, the Tour de France is for pampered weenies.  For those that do know, the tour Divide follows the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Banff, Alberta CA to Antelope Wells, NM, a distance of 2,745 miles.  Yep, pretty much right down the spine of the US.  Since it is the same route each year, riders from various years can compare times.  

Anybody can ride part or all of the Route at any time, but the official/unofficial race starts on the second Friday in June. Every rider who chooses to compete in the race wears a GPS tracker and must follow the rules which include:

  • Riders must ride solo totally self-supported.
  • A rider may resupply food/equipment, rent a room, launder clothing, even service their bike at commercial shops along the way. Any services utilized must always be commercially available to all riders and not pre-arranged. No private resupply, no private lodging. 
  • Outside assistance of any kind is prohibited and this includes any loosely planned encounters from family or friends.  

Competitors ride as many hours and miles as they can every day and a day is 24 hours.  They carry their own supplies and it is often 100 miles or more to find a place to resupply.  If they run out of food or water, well that's a problem. Riding in remote backcountry areas, they are their own navigators and are as likely to see a bear as another person.  If they are not in the community, they camp on the trail.  Many days are sunny and bright, but if there is rain, sleet, hail, snow, and/or lightning, riders deal with it.  

Tom Hall is the current men's record holder completing the 2745 mile ride in 2016 in 13 days, 22 hours, and 51 minutes averaging over 190 miles per day.  The woman's record holder is Lael Wilson who completed the Divide in 17 days, 1 hour, and 51 minutes.   

For me, one of the most inspirational riders is Alexandra Houchin, the 2018 and 2019 women's winner.  In 2019, she road a single-speed bike.  Yeah, 2,750 miles along the continental divide from Banff to Antelope Wells on a single-speed bike.  According to an article in Bicycling Magazine,  Houchin is of Anglo, Mexica, and Objbwe descent.  She grew up in a low-income but happy family.  Growing up, she was not an athlete and dealt with eating issues and some substance abuse.  She figured it out with the help and magic of riding a bike and now she is a two-time women's winner of the Tour Divide, completing her college degree and plans to enter Dental School. 

What does the winner of the Tour Divide receive?  No money, but a whole lot of personal and spiritual satisfaction as done by everyone who participates. 

The Tour de France is an incredibly difficult challenging race.  So is the Tour Divide.  It is really not possible to compare the two, but for me, individual participants riding 2,750 miles on a mountain bike in remote wilderness areas with no support being their own navigation skills in all kinds of weather and terrain, amazes and impresses the most.