Lee wins Tour Divide

Cannondale racer dedicates victory to deceased fellow competitor

Matthew Lee (Cannondale Factory Racing) won the seventh edition of the Tour Divide, a 2,745-mile trans-continental mountain bike race from Banff, Alberta, Canada, to the US - Mexican border. It was Lee's fifth Tour Divide victory, and this year he won in a time of 17 days, 15 hours and 10 minutes.

"It was eight hours faster than the current Great Divide Mountain Bike course record, BUT we traded 70 miles of very difficult dirt riding for 60 miles of a paved detour," Lee told Cyclingnews. "Therefore, the Tour Divide will get filed in its own special race results category."

Racers were forced to detour from the pre-defined route due to a fire near Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico.

Lee, who also serves as the director of the unsupported race, finished at 1:00 am on Tuesday morning, and Cyclingnews caught up with him later on Tuesday as he was buying some non-cycling clothes at the local Walmart in order to prepare for his trip home.

Each year that Lee has raced, he's faced a different set of challenges. This year proved no exception.

"There was lots of opportunity for personal growth," said Lee. "The 2010 Tour Divide was a tale of low and high pressure systems and low and high spirits.

"The weather for a spell in Montana was the coldest, snowiest we've ever had. Then down south, it was high pressure domination with heat and stiff headwinds.

"In my mind, it was classic Grand Tour drama that may go down as one of the more interesting story lines, despite the tragedy. Grand Tour racing is always a great metaphor for life. The 2010 Tour Divide is no exception."

The tragedy Lee mentioned was that of the death of David Blumenthal while the latter was racing through Colorado. The Vermont resident collided with a pick-up truck and sustained fatal head injuries.

Despite the remote setting of most of the race, news of Blumenthal quickly spread to racers, who call in and go online whenever they have a chance in order to give updates on their own status and learn about the status of other races.

After hearing of Blumenthal's death, Lee wasn't sure what to do. "Initially I was ready to drop out. My judgment wasn't very clear, and it felt like a proper first reaction for racer/organizer. I was in a very remote lodge near the border of Colorado and New Mexico. Extrication wouldn't have been easy, but a Mountain Flyer journalist had been shadowing me that day so I did have a ride out.

"I contacted a few close friends to solicit opinions. Everyone felt it would be possible to honor Dave more completely by first doing it on the bike - to finish "for him". I agreed, for the most part, but didn't want to be insensitive.

"In the end, I think it was the right decision for "my processes" and Tour Divide's processes. It would have been very easy for certain essential elements of the race to die with the tragedy if we didn't see this year's edition through to the finish. Antelope Wells - come hell or high water - is what part of makes this race so extreme, so lovable."

Lee recalled another memory of his race - from earlier on. "There was the half day he rode with GC contender Erik Lobeck. He had been chasing me for five days since I attacked the lead group on the opening day by riding 195 miles into the Flathead Wilderness. Once we were finally united, we rode together in rain and snow misery.

"It was upbeat and in solidarity, but the edge of competition was still palpable. By nightfall, I opened up a little gap and then Erik destroyed his drivetrain in a bentonite clay mud hike-a-bike debacle. This caused him to lose the 24 hours he never recovered."

When asked if he would race the Tour Divide again, he said, "I always want to race! I was pursuing the record earnestly, when we were forced to detour the route for fire in the Santa Fe National Forest outside Albuquerque. This rendered all of this year's times 'asterisked'.

"If I come back, it will be because improving that record nags at me," said Lee. "I would love to manage the race from the other (non-participant) side for once. It's pretty exciting to watch."

Erik Lobeck and Blaine Nester tied for second place and Aidan Harding finished fourth on a singlespeed. Harding will be awarded the white jersey as the highest-ranked rookie in the general classification.

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