Tour Divide | Banff, AB – Antelope Wells, NM | 2745 mi / 4418 km | Self-supported
Mike Hall, 37, of Yorkshire, England, completed the 2016 Tour Divide in a record 13 days, 22 hours, 51 minutes, surpassing the previous fastest time by 12 hours and 46 minutes. Route trackers published his average distance per day at an unbelievable 194.1 miles, while his total daily moving time was 10:14:36 (rest stops and refueling comprising the rest of the time awake).
I had the opportunity to speak with Mike, and he shared some very interesting details of the experience. He spent the duration of the event unaware of what was going on with other competitors, as he chose not to take his mobile phone while he completely ignored the spot tracking on other riders, focusing only on his own riding, and for good reason – he had something to prove. Drawing upon lessons learned in previous Tour Divide races, he got off to a “quick” start and rode 23+ hours straight to the US border (Banff, AB to Roosville, MT — a total of 256.6 miles). Many riders choose to spend the first night at Butts Cabin, a wilderness cabin in the Flathead Valley, which he had done in 2013. This time, he decided to get out ahead of the field and push through, opting not to rest until the US border over 23 hours of continuous pedaling.
Once out ahead, he never looked back. Lessons learned from previous experiences proved to be strategic, as he was able to mitigate allergies and other discomforts by making small adjustments in both preparation and execution. While being ever aware of the clock, but also of his physical needs for food, water, and rest, Mike had an intelligent answer for every question on my mind. Along the way there are towns that the riders use for resupply, repairs, and rest. No time is wasted though, as he waited for food he attended to his bikes needs, or personal hygiene. And timing is critical too: arrive at a town when stores are closed and you’re out of luck. Remember, this is a “self-supported” race, so riders must find ways to resupply without any aid that wouldn’t be available to the general public/any other rider.
Carrying two liters of water, and on the trail type foods such as granola and energy bars, Mike would push to a schedule that had him arrive at resupply points at the right time. Often napping at 10 or 11pm for an hour to 90 minutes, then riding through to early morning, and then napping again, in order to maximize daily mileage. Utilizing GPS coordinates and a text file from the Adventure Cycling Association containing navigational cues, Mike spent almost the entire ride alone, except for short stops in resupply towns, this challenge is not for everyone. He listened to music only when necessary, to push through head winds on the longer, flat sections of the way.
The route is made up of jeep roads, fire roads, and the occasional single track and even some pavement, but not much. Mike lives at sea level, so acclimatization posed a slight issue however, when headed southbound on the Tour Divide, elevations hover around 4,000′ to 6,000′, allowing him the time required to adjust. His preparation included a few 200 mile road rides on his MTB, and one 400 miler, mostly to make sure all of the bike touch points and biomechanics were good to go. Having several grand tour races under his belt, Mike maintains a high level of aerobic/anaerobic cycling fitness.
He last completed the Tour Divide in 2013 amidst some controversy. Along the way at record pace, he encountered forest fires that forced him to detour from the official route, and that made this new record time stand as “unofficial.” Mike’s goal this year was to ensure the record would be his and that it would stand for a long time. Staying true to his word, he then proceeded to lead the race most of the way, eventually setting the new record.
About Mike Hall
Born June 4th, 1981, in Harrogate, UK, Hall began racing mountain bikes as a teenager, and became more serious in 2009 (at the age of 28), when he started doing 24-hour events. His first ultra-distance self-supported race was the Tour Divide in 2011 – and despite injuring his knee, he finished the race. He then won a major ultra-distance event every year for the next three years:
- 2011 – Tour Divide – 11th – 19 days 8 hours 47 mins
- 2012 – World Cycle Race – 1st – 91 days 18 hours*
- 2013 – Tour Divide – 1st – 14 days 11 hours 55 mins**
- 2014 – TransAm Bicycle Race – 1st – 17 days 16 hours 17 mins
* The 91 days and 18 hours for the 2012 World Cycle Race does not include transfer and flight times, which is how Guinness World Records measured it at the time, and this was faster than the current around the world cycling record, but his attempt was never ratified by Guinness.
For the Tour Divide, Mike rode a Pivot Cycles LES hardtail MTB, outfitted with Reynolds carbon wheels, Shimano XTR Di2 drivetrain and components, Apidura bike packing bags, and Lezyne accessories. Mike wore PEdAL ED clothing for the entire event. In 2013, Mike founded the Transcontinental Race (TCR), which is an unsupported bike race across Europe, that has no set route except that the riders must pass several intermediate checkpoints at iconic locations, which vary every year.
A feature-length documentary, called Inspired to Ride was made about the 2014 TransAm Bicycle Race, which Mike Hall won. In addition to several interviews during the race, the documentary included a section where Hall was interviewed and filmed while riding around where he lives in southern Wales, UK.
Mike has his sights set on a more technical, mountain bike skills focused race as his next challenge, however, if anyone pushes his Tour Divide record, he may have to give it another go – time will tell.
More About the Tour Divide
The Tour Divide is an annual mountain biking event that draws an international field of racers. It follows a fixed course called the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR), which is the world’s longest off-pavement cycling route. It was mapped over a four year span, and published in 1998 by the Adventure Cycling Association. The route is made up of long dirt roads and jeep trails that weave their way through the back country and wilderness passes of North America’s Continental Divide. When complete, a thru-rider will climb nearly 200,000 feet (the equivalent to summiting Mount Everest from sea-level seven times) and travel over 2,700 miles. The Tour Divide runs through the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, and the United States of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico (map/live tracker). The route is unmarked and extremely circuitous, demanding expert navigational and orienteering skills. It travels through remote backcountry with high grizzly bear and mountain lion populations. Intervals between services are frequently over 100 miles, and demand focused attention on food and water resupply, or face the consequences.
Self-supported grand tour racing (defined as requiring >2 weeks) along the GDMBR is like none other. It’s the hardest form of bike racing there is, period. To be competitive, you must ride ≥150 miles/day. And no, there are no rest days. If volume alone isn’t draining enough, riders must also navigate, acquire necessities and coordinate resupplies, clean and maintain the bike, find shelter each night, bathe when possible, and keep your composure and sanity throughout. There are no entourages that follow the athletes. It truly is in a class of it’s own, and Mike’s performance deserves tremendous respect and notoriety.
Here are some interesting event rules from the Tour Divide website:
- Who is eligible: Any determined cyclist may challenge the Great Divide Route at any time, in either direction, to qualify for the Tour Divide (TD) General Classification (GC).
- When is the event: All summer long, however, an informal common start date known as the ‘grand depart’ traditionally kicks off the season around the 2nd week of June from both ends of the route.
- Spirit of the event: Above all, attempts are intended to be solo / self-supported, self-timed, and observed as one stage, i.e. the clock runs non-stop. The challenge is complete upon arrival to the opposite GDMBR terminus from start. There are no required checkpoints or designated rest periods on course. There is no finish time cut-off, however, current convention considers a competitive Divide Route finish time as approximately 1.5 times (x) course records. Currently this = 25days (~110 mi/day) for men, and 29.5 days (93 mi/day) for women.
- Modus operandi: To complete the Route, a rider may resupply food / equipment, rent a room, launder clothing, even service their bike at commercial shops along the way. The intent is to ride unsupported between towns, and function self-supported when in towns. Any services utilized must always be commercially available to all challengers and not pre-arranged. No private resupply, no private lodging.