Setting the bar for self-supported racing, the 2745 mile Tour Divide is one of the most rigorous tests of durability a bike can be put through. The route primarily consists of rough dirt road and 4x4 road with a smaller amount of pavement over mountains and through deserts from Canada to Mexico. Along the way, riders deal with nearly every weather and trail condition imaginable from snow, hail, rain, mud of all varieties and plenty of hot dry dust.
Chris Seistrup from Arizona was the first to finish this year's race with a time of 15 days 11 hours and 24 minutes. For his first Tour Divide victory, Chris relied on his titanium Binary Cycles SuperB XC mountain bike with a Lauff suspension fork to provide a reliable and comfortable ride that allowed him to average nearly 180 miles a day.
The first woman to finish this year with a time of 18 days 20 hours and 26 minutes was repeat winner Alexandera Houchin from Minessota aboard her Chumba USA Stella Ti mountain bike. Replete with flat pedals and propelled with a 36x19 singlespeed drivetrain, Alexandera was pleased with the new-found freedom of ditching her gears for the simplicity of one gear being all she needed to get the job done. A true convert, Alexandera has proclaimed that singlespeeding has changed her life as a cyclist. Of course, it's worth mentioning this is also her fourth year riding in those hiking boots, which she claims are comfortable and protect her feet from the deep mud encountered along the route far better than any other cycling shoe ever could. No excuses from Alexandera, show up, run what you brung, and let your grit and determination overcome any perceived limitations or popular cycling conventions.
Top 3 finisher Steve Halligan from Hanmer Springs, New Zealand conquered the Tour Divide aboard his Salsa Ti Fargo with drop style road bars. One of the things to have evolved over the years of ultra racing has been the variety of steering options available. In this sort of event, repetitive motion fatigue can become a real enemy to the hands, arms and torso. To stave off discomfort and allow for increased movement on the bike, many different combinations of bars, aero-bars and bar-ends have worked their way onto the bikes based on individual needs. Although, one thing many Tour Divide bikes do share is some sort of aero-bar position for increased aero-dynamics since many of the miles are flat and into the wind. That said, it is a bike race, and sails or devices used to harness the wind for forward motion are expressly prohibited in the rules.
Interestingly, Steve opted for a rare combination of electronic shifting via Shimano Ultegra levers and an XT rear derailleur paired with an Avid mechanical disk brake.
One of the more interesting steeds in this years race was ridden by Josh Ibbett who is no stranger to ultra-distance bikepacking and racing. A previous winner of the prestigious Trans Continental race, Josh is also one of the few people alive to have ridden around the world. Appealing with its elegant curves and designed with the ultra-distance cycling community in mind, his Mason Cycles steel InSearchOf frame utilizes a heap of forward thinking and some of the newest technology available for a do-it-all approach that far surpasses the abilities of any popular gravel grinder or groad bikes being heralded today.
Other notable bikes included are former Tour Divide winner Josh Kato's Salsa Ti Fargo. Josh was on a crusher of a Tour Divide ride, but unfortunately his Fargo proved to be a bit more robust than him as he scratched due to medical issues nearly 2000 miles into the race. Previously, Josh had ridden on the Tour Divide inspired carbon fiber Salsa Cutthroat, but opted for the comfort and durability provided by the titanium Fargo this year. That, and he said he liked the sound made by rocks and gravel pinging off of his frame.
Of course, this report would be incomplete without taking a look at Lael Wilcox's carbon fiber Specialized Epic. Lael scratched midway through the race, but still continued riding all the way to the finish at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Excepting the Shimano XTR pedals, her bike was fitted head-to-toe with SRAM parts and components featuring RED shifter/levers and hydraulic disc brakes combined with XX1 cranks and an electronic 12-speed AXS derailler. Also used were Roval carbon wheels, RockShox SID fork and a narrow Panaracer Gravelking SK 700x43C rear tire to improve mud clearance and reduce rolling resistance.
Last and certainly not least was 2016 equal third-place finisher Sofiane Sehili from Paris France. Up until the halfway point on a snowy mountain pass north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Sofiane had been riding a blistering pace that had him a fair bit ahead of Mike Hall's 2016 record pace. Unfortunately, blizzard conditions that dumped 20 inches of new snow conspired against his plans, and he scratched after hiking back down from a cold, wet, snowy and muddy Sand Pass. Having ridden the 2016 race on a cyclocross bike, Sofiane returned with a more robust and comfortable carbon fiber Niner Air9 mountain bike. Perhaps the most interesting part of his build was that the entire drivetrain and braking system was all a working man's spec Shimano SLX component group.