The Tour Divide is known as “The World’s Toughest Mountain Bike Race”. It is a self-supported, weather extreme, food management, multiple 100+ mile-a-day run through 2,700 miles of unfamiliar territory stretching across and along the Rockies from Canada to the US border in New Mexico.
My friend and neighbor Andy Hazen rode some 535 miles of the race, which started June 7 this year in Banff, Canada. Andy was over the worst of the snow and mud, and had just put together two back-to-back 110 mile days when he had a crash at 25 miles per hour coming into Lincoln, Montana. His accident required medical attention, and affected his shoulder, elbow, and ribs to the point where he had to abandon the ride. Andy was not able to lift his arm to reach the handlebar.
I caught up with Andy at his farm when after he drove himself back, and had a few questions I thought his legion of followers would like answered.
I found him hunched over his computer tracking info about this years Tour Divide.
Q: Tell me about your previous racing experience. This isn’t the first time you have put in hundreds of miles a week in training.
A: I was attending college in Boulder, when I graduated in 1971. I started racing in 1973. I got into bicycling through commuting up 14 miles one way Boulder Canyon. This was road riding, before mountain biking became mainstream. I worked my way up to State Championship races that were 125 miles long. At that time I was training 300-400 miles a week. Then Emily and Ben were born, and the demands of staying home to help out put racing on the back burner.
Q: How competitive were you back then?
A: I was coming in at the middle of the peleton. I remember a couple of bikes I had: I had a Raleigh Pro, with Campagnolo stuff, and a Schwinn Paramount, with Campy components- Shimano had not started then. After I dropped the long biking, I took up running, putting in 12-15 miles a day. I had a weak gait for running, and needed orthotics. If you don’t have a good gait, you develop problems- shin splints, sciatica Then here in Maine, I bought a Nishiki rigid mountain bike in the mid-80’s. I totally rebuilt that with Deore XT group and rode that around here for years.
Q: Post race analysis of your ride?
A: My biggest mistake was not pushing more the first couple of days. I should have been in Elkford at the end of the second day. It’s a decent town of about 1,000 people. My mistake was camping up on Elkford pass when it snowed three or four inches during the night. I did 85 miles that first day, and stopped at 7:30 PM. If I rode until 10 PM, I would have been under cover in Elkford. My gear got extremely wet, it also started to rain. I was up there with three other guys.
Q: What about food? I understand you guys burn up 5,000-6,000 calories a day out there.
A: They say you go through 400 or more calories an hour. You can spend a lot of time and carry bulk to find, buy, prepare and consume 1000 calories in veggies or get your calories in 2 minutes if you eat two big Snickers bars. I wanted crackers, but didn’t want a whole box, I had no room for that. Hostess fruit pies had 410 to 450 calories in them. Beef sticks were good. I ate sardines in oil. I was buying two packages of Canada bacon. I would have one for supper and the other one for breakfast.
Q: What was the most surprising thing about the course?
A: It was tougher than I expected. Not so much the steepness, I trained for that. It was so varied. I had to go over rock and snow avalanches, and there were lots of blow downs [Ed. = trees] that had not been cleaned up yet. Some times there were two or three blow downs at a time, and it was difficulty to get the bike over them. There was also plenty of mud. The canadian section was the worst. The weather up there was not good at all; snow , rain, cold, and wet. Everyone had to find shelter to get dry. I would sometimes get to a laundromat, and dry things out. In a motel room, you spread out your things to dry, If I stayed in a room, a shower would warm me up.
Q: Any additional strategy that have you acquired after riding those first 535 miles?
A: The major thing I learned was that timing was critical. You have to be thinking about where and when you are going to get food, where to sleep, and yet there were three times when the snow depth in the passes slowed us down. We were riding on old jeep trails. I remember crossing a 60 degree steep than ran out for a couple of miles covered with snow where it was work to push the bike. There were six passes that had snow depths of 5 to 10 feet deep.
Q: Other things for people to know?
A: The maps for the trip are from Adventure Cycling http://www.adventurecycling.org/routes/greatdivide.cfm . When you want to camp, you find a mossy spot right on the side of the trail. I chose not to cook on this trip, but hung my food at night. There are grizzlies in parts of Montana that are not going to let a tent stop them. I slept with my bear spray right at hand. Any of the Montana natives that I saw out in the woods had two cans of bear spray on them. Some people had sleigh bells on their bikes. I used a whistle. The bikes are quiet, and I yelled, “Bear!” coming up on any turn.
Q: Any change in training in the coming year?
A: I am doing it again. I won’t ride with the same intensity I did for the past year. I like to ride, and will ride recreationally during this summer, also some longer rides. In February, March, and April I will plow on the miles. I plan to put in 6,000 miles this year rather than the 8,000 that I did getting ready for this Tour Divide.
Here is a photo taken this week north of Livingston, MT viewed from the radio tower in town. It is the Willow Creek area- the wind shifted and the fire didn’t reach the town. It is the same area where the previous photo was taken.