Divide racing begins Friday

Mountain bikers start in Banff and head to Mexico

The Tour Divide will kick off this Friday, June 11 at 9:00 am in Banff, Alberta, Canada. 48 racers, the largest field ever, are set to start the north-to-south transcontinental mountain bike competition across much of North America.

Riders will race over 2,700 miles down the spine of the Rocky Mountains along Adventure Cycling's Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Banff to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Pedaling the entire distance to the Mexican border along primarily dirt roads, without any outside assistance, competitors will climb nearly 200,000 vertical feet from start to finish.

In classic touring tradition, racers carry everything they need - food, water, shelter - on their bikes and backs, with refueling stops in small-town stores along the way. Riders are truly on their own, with no support crews, SAG vehicles, or massage-teams allowed, making the Tour Divide the longest, most-challenging cycling race in the world.

"This year's line-up is colorful and packed with rookies - out of 48 racers, only 14 are veterans - so wide-eyed newbies providing fresh accounts of the racing and route are sure to dominate the call-ins," said Matthew Lee, race organizer and five-time Tour Divide winner. "Nineteen states and 6 different countries are represented. Four women will take the start and a record five single-speeders. The oldest racer is 55 and the youngest is 26."

The race is free to enter and there are no prizes.

This year's Tour Divide has been unofficially dedicated to the preservation of the Flathead Valley in British Columbia, which was recently integrated into the Canadian portion of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. The valley is by all accounts stunning, remote, and home to countless species of plants and animals.

"This scenic area is called the 'Serengeti of North America' by biologists for its unrivaled wildlife populations; it is the last major valley in southern Canada to be completely uninhabited," said Carla Majernik, Adventure Cycling's routes and mapping director.

Tour Divide organizers are encouraging cyclists to become "Friends of the Flathead", which they can do through Flathead Wild's website at www.flathead.ca. Flathead Wild is a Canadian non-governmental organization working to preserve the valley.

Fans, family, and the curious can follow the Tour Divide online. Each racer will carry a SPOT tracker (an automated GPS beacon) that will update their position every 10 minutes as they wend their way south to Mexico. Racer positions can be followed at www.tourdivide.org/leaderboard and MTBCast will carry daily podcasts with commentary and phoned-in reports from the racers themselves at www.mtbcast.com.

On the evening of Thursday, June 10, the night before the Tour Divide race blasts off, competitors and fans can attend the Banff premiere of a new documentary film, Ride the Divide. The film follows a handful of 2008 Tour Divide riders determined to make it to Mexico, capturing their physical and psychological struggles with the route’s sometimes grueling terrain and the solitude of racing self-contained and alone. This spring, Ride the Divide won Best Adventure Film at the Vail Film Festival in Colorado.

After the Banff screening, Ride the Divide will play in four Montana cities that lie on or near the route: Whitefish June 13, 7:30 pm at the O'Shaughnessy Center, Helena June 14, 7:00 pm at the Myrna Loy, Missoula June 15, 7:30 pm at The Wilma and Bozeman June 16, 7:30 pm at The Emerson. For more information and tickets, visit www.ridethedividemovie.com.

Stay tuned for two upcoming reviews on Cyclingnews - featuring the Ride the Divide movie and Two Wheels on my Wagon, a book by Paul Howard.  Both document the Tour Divide race experience.

For more information on the Tour Divide, visit www.TourDivide.org.

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