Partners in crime
It’s been difficult to tell exactly where the two southbound leaders – Kurt and Jefe – have been in relation to each other over the past couple of days. The occasional lack of SPOT updates has lead to fevered speculation – here, in my head, and on the race discussion forum – about trackers having possibly been switched off to disguise progress, or the rider behind trying to gauge the freshness of the tyre tracks they’re following to work out how far down they are (sounds like a story-line from a western, doesn’t it?).
It was interesting, then, to read a post from Kurt’s dad saying that Kurt and Jefe weren’t aware of the tracker issues, and had spent a good chunk of yesterday riding together. In particular, I like the idea that two such committed racers continue to be so tolerant of each other’s company.
It’s easy to imagine, especially with the finish line now metaphorically in sight, that they will be thinking about each other and be pre-occupied with notions such as ‘I need to ride ahead’ or ‘If he’s sleeping for X hours I’ll sleep for one fewer’… Yet I think much of the reality of the Tour Divide is that it comes down so much to you and the route that these issues are secondary. I’m not saying they don’t exist – I’m sure they both dearly want to win, and are still lucid enough to realise that will mean having to beat the other – but that the way to win is at least as much about how you deal with the route, how far you can push yourself, as it is about how you deal with your rival.
This self-focus isn’t an attitude exclusive to the TD of course. Bradley Wiggins won Olympic Gold in the pursuit not by riding it as a pursuit – motivated by the chase of the other rider – but simply by focussing solely on what he knew he could do, and knowing that at his best this was faster than anyone else. In some ways this takes away the charm of the event; much of the appeal of sport is in watching the competition between participants and seeing who comes out on top.
But in the TD, the scale of the event and the nature of the challenge is so absorbing that it seem reassuring that it’s each man against the route as much as it is each man against the other. This is certainly the case for Paul Attalla. He doesn’t need someone breathing down his neck to keep pushing on, and to keep closing the gap on the southbound racers in terms of ground covered. Which race will finish first – southbound or northbound – is becoming as interesting a question as which of Kurt or Jefe will make it to Antelope Wells first.
I think this also goes some way to explaining the apparently cosy groupings that occur every year in the TD. It can seem like these people are not racing. In 2009 me, Trevor, Per and Stephen certainly didn’t try and sneak out of buildings early to build up a lead of a couple of hours, but we were all trying to get to the finish as quickly as we could (at least until Silver City, when we gave up on a sub-27 day target and decided fatefully to enjoy our last day in the route together – whether riding through the night might have saved Per from knocking himself unconscious is unclear, but you can’t help wondering). I hope everyone still active in the TD continues to ‘enjoy’ their own personal battles with the route.