Tour Divide is not a sporting event that will bring its participants fame and fortune. No cover story in Sports Illustrated. No photo on a Wheaties box. No lucrative endorsement contracts. No Nike commercial viewed by millions during a Super Bowl.
No, the competitors in the Tour Divide, billed as the world’s toughest mountain bike race, and other athletes who take part in long-distance endurance cycling, as randonneurs or riders in the Race Across America, labor in the obscure corners of the sporting world. They derive their satisfaction from pushing their bodies to the limit and surviving to finish.
And they have to be a at least a little bit crazy to compete in such events in the first place.
Ride the Divide, a feature film about the Tour Divide, has been making its way around the country, being shown at events hosted by bicycle clubs, at fund-raisers for such charities as Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation and at schools and other organizations.
The documentary, which debuted at the 2010 Vail Film Festival and was named the festival’s Best Adventure Film, focuses on the experiences of three of the 16 competitors in the 2008 Tour Divide as they traverse more than 2,700 miles along the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, N.M., a small, dusty crossing on the border with Mexico.
“Over the course of a few weeks they’ll attempt to climb over 200,000 vertical feet over the Rocky Mountains,” the blurb says. “That’s the equivalent of ascending Mount Everest from sea level seven times. They’ll experience mental breakdowns, treacherous snow, hellacious blisters, and total fatigue. Above all, they’ll race with no support — at times in total isolation.”
Matthew Lee won the 2008 race featured in the film, finishing in 19 days and 12 hours for an average of about 140 miles per day. He went on to win the Tour Divide in 2009 and 2010 for a total of five victories. This year’s Tour Divide begins on June 10.
The Tour Divide, which began in 1999, may be tougher than the Tour de France, as Outside magazine suggested in its review of the film about the race, but it has nowhere near the fame of the French classic.
The blog Get going NC! reported that only one person was on hand to congratulate Lee as he crossed the Mexican border in the dark of night to win the 2008 Tour Divide. That’s “a far cry,” the blog said, “from cruising down the Champs-Élysées to the cheers of hundreds of thousands of fans.”
Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times and is an American sports icon. Matthew Lee has won the Tour Divide five times and he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.