Degrees of separation

Racers have just embarked on their sixth day of the Tour Divide, and already significant gaps are beginning to develop between distinct groups of racers. The distance between the front runners, though, remains indecisive – maybe half a day between the front four.

Having established a lead of a few hours, current leader Jefe stopped for around six hours last night a good way past Lima. Back in town, Kurt and Ethan stopped for maybe half an hour longer, though appeared to take a little longer to get rolling again this morning. Clearly the pace hasn’t got to Jefe yet, though the benefits of an extra half hour in Lima for his nearest chasers might be even greater than otherwise if it meant they could eat an extra portion of the fantastic pies at Jan’s café. Good for the soul as well as the body.

More significant, perhaps, was fourth-placed Mike Hall’s little-more-then four hour stop about three hours shy of town. Given how late he rode last night, did he underestimate the distance to Lima, or just push on regardless, safe in the knowledge that a good breakfast was only a short way away?

In 2009, Ray Porter bivvyed in a similar spot and then had to pull out after a near hypothermic night in the worst conditions imaginable (so far he’s making a good fist of this current attempt – go Ray, and don’t pick any more fights with screwdrivers). 24 hours later, Pete Basinger breezed through on the Great Divide race, stopping at Lima only long enough to eat his fill before taking advantage of favourable night-time conditions and maintaining near record-breaking pace. Presumably Mike’s condition resembles that of Pete more than Ray - he got off to an early start this morning, which could well suggest he’s not burnt out yet.

Certainly, you want to be able to make the most of the excellent riding all the way into Idaho – assuming there’s no mud (or major headwinds). It’s such beautiful countryside that it just invites you to get your head won and cover some ground.

Further back, roughly a day, give or take, comes a group of four riders, including last year’s singlespeed winner Aidan Harding. He employed a ride faster, recover longer  strategy last year, and went particularly well in the latter stages of the race. He could well serve as a benchmark for the progress/deterioration of those ahead.

Then there’s another larger group of around half a dozen just leaving Wise River. It’s not inconceivable that they could yet latch onto those immediately ahead of them, but it’s getting to the point where the difference in speed and/or time spent riding that has created the gap will likely exacerbate the difference, rather than be something that can be closed down.

As I write, the next big group, holed up in Butte over night, has not yet set out, which goes a long way to demonstrating just how wearing the race can be for mid-lower pack racers. Recovery time is paramount if you’re to avoid the cluster of drop-outs that seem to occur every year between days five and ten.

The sheer volume of riders in this year’s race means the spread further back still is considerable, but the nature of the event – riders creating stages between towns, or well-known camping/bivvy areas to break the overwhelming whole into more manageable chunks – means groups of similar paced racers tend to form – see Helena, Canyon Creek, Lincoln, Seeley Lake and Holland Lake.

As for the northbounders, there’s an interesting comparison between the leaders in that category and those heading south on the race discussion forum. More on that next time.



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