The Great Race

Last night, my wife asked me if I was getting excited for the Tour de France. I’m sad to say that I am not. I’ll still watch it, but I’m not clearing the decks and planning my life around it the way I have for the last ten years or so.

It’s not so much that I’m disgusted with the organization or the racers. It’s more that the race has kinda lost its validity. Are the racers who will be starting really the fastest cyclists alive? Or are they just the fastest clean cyclists alive? Or are they just luckier than the guys who got caught?

For the record, I’m rooting for Vinokourov, because he makes me laugh. But that’s not exactly a prescription for a riveting race, is it?

You want to know what multi-day race is holding my attention? The Great Divide Race — a self-supported mountain bike race from Canada to Mexico that can last close to a month — is, that’s what.

Allure of the Nearly Possible
I have no illusions about whether I could ride in the Tour de France. My genetics aren’t even close. Even if I had trained perfectly my entire life, I couldn’t be one of those guys.

I cry every time I admit that fact.

I also have no illusions about whether I could do the Great Divide Race (GDR). I don’t have the time, and I don’t like camping. And I’m in nothing close to good enough shape

But if I decided to make it my life’s mission, well, maybe I could do the GDR.


If I didn’t have any mechanicals, the weather was good, and the bears left me alone. Then maybe.

I think that “maybe” is what makes the difference between admiring a race and getting sucked into it heart and soul.

19_Nice_Portrait Go Dave!
Another part of what’s got me obsessively tracking this race is the fact that Dave Nice — the guy Fat Cyclist readers raised $1200 for — is racing wearing the Fat Cyclist jersey (Photo by Aaron Teasdale of Adventure Cycling Association (ACA). Used with permission, believe it or not).

And while there’s no such thing as an “easy way” to do this ride, Dave’s about as hardcore as they come. His bike’s a rigid, fixed 29er. His pedals do not have clips. His shorts do not have a chamois.

And to top it all off, Dave has vowed to not eat anything he does not personally either harvest or kill during the entire ride.

OK, I made that last part up. But still.

Meet the Riders
If you want to get sucked into a real-life, month-long drama like I am, a good place to start is with this first day photo essay Aaron Teasdale of ACA put together. You’ll meet the riders, learn what they look like and what they’re hoping to accomplish.

Then, once you’ve done that, just head on over to these places to follow the adventure:

  • Updates from the riders’ mouths: This is what makes the race so compelling, if you ask me. Racers are given a toll-free phone number to call whenever they get into a town. They give updates, which are transcribed into this running report.
  • Get background and summary info: ACA has a great portal to the route and information about the riders and past editions of the races. Definitely worth boning up on.

What Makes the GDR Great
I love hearing how the race is going, unedited and unfiltered, right from the racers’ mouths. For example, as of last night, Dave was spending a second day in Butte, exhausted from his fixed-gear trek so far. From the way it’s transcribed, Dave is so tired he had to pause to remember his last name.

It’s very common for racers to call in and start giving a report, only to realize that they don’t even know what town they’re in. Or to report that they had to spend a day in a sleeping bag, vomiting and exhausted, but now they can walk again and so are heading out.

It’s the very mundaneness of the calls that makes them interesting to me, because I can imagine myself making a similar call. “Hi, uh, I know a lot of stuff happened today, but right now I’m so cooked all I can think about is sleeping. I’m hungry, but I can’t eat. I need to get out my camping stuff now, so I’ve gotta go.”

Food, shelter, sleep. That’s what’s on these guys’ minds. Totally primal.

I love it.

You know what else I love about this race? The concern over cheating. In particular, it’s the obsessive aversion to cheating that seems so prevalent. Consider this: the rules say that you can’t accept a ride. But there’s a paved section on the trail right now that is one lane wide and requires cyclists to ride in a pilot car. Pete Basinger tells a story of how he argues with the flag lady for half an hour, finally agrees to ride in the pilot car (downhill) for the three mile stretch, then gets out and continues on his ride.

And it eats at him. And eats at him.

So after thirty miles, Pete turns around and rides back, and rides that construction section after all the workers have gone home.

Call it a hunch, but I’m guessing that Pete’s not sneaking EPO to win this race.

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