Interview: Jefe Branham - Tour Divide Winner

Jul 8, 2014
by Mike Kazimer  


INTERVIEW: JEFE BRANHAM



Tour Divide winner Jefe Banham. Linda Guerette photo.

There's a good chance you've never heard of Jefe Branham, but it's a name worth knowing. Jefe is the winner of this year's Tour Divide race, a brutal mountain bike event with no entry fee and no prize money that begins in Banff, Canada, and finishes in Antelope Wells, New Mexico, some 2,700 miles and 200,000 vertical feet later. The racers are entirely on their own – there are no markings on the course to show which way to go, no cushy aid stations full of smiling helpers and healthy snacks, only miles and miles of grueling dirt roads, singletrack, and pavement.

Jefe, a 41 year old bike mechanic from the small town of Gunnison, Colorado, completed the race in 16 days, averaging nearly 170 off-road miles a day, and finishing ahead of his nearest competitor by two hundred miles. That's a mind-boggling amount of riding - just imagine waking up every day for over two weeks and riding for 17 to 24 hours at a time with minimal sleep, all by yourself, miles from civilization. It's an impressive feat, and one that takes years of training, preparation, and the ability to push through pain and suffering that would leave others curled up and whimpering in the fetal position. Jefe's no stranger to this type of event – he first did the Tour Divide in 2011 aboard a singlespeed, and ended up placing second overall. He's also a repeat winner of the Colorado Trail Race, which covers 550 miles with 75,000 feet of climbing. We caught up with Jefe once he'd had the chance to eat food that wasn't bought in a gas station and to sleep for a few nights in his own bed to find out more about his experience at this year's Tour Divide.





How do you go about training for something like the Tour Divide? What kind of preparation went into getting ready for this year's race?

Well I rode a lot, I rode a lot in the 12 years prior to the TD and in the 6 months leading up to the TD. I did all sorts of core workouts, but really it is all about the years and years of getting my as kicked in the mountains. After 24 hours it is 80% mental, being somewhat ready for the gut punches and ass kicking that WILL come!


Tell us about your bike set up – what did it weigh fully loaded down? Do you think a rigid fork is the way to go, or would a bit of suspension helped?

Ibis Tranny 29er, Niner Carbon Fork, SRAM XX1 drivetrain w/36 tooth chainring, Avid BB7 Brakes, Stan's No Tube Arch EX rims, XO Rear Hub, SP Dynamo front hub, Maxxis Crossmark EXO TR tires. I never weighed the bike, I didn't want to know. It had what I thought I needed and I didn't want to put a number to that. As far as rigid vs. suspension, rigid is simple, light and low maintenance...it is rough as hell out there sometimes, but mostly it is dirt road, plus with suspension I would have had to stop every day or so and rebuild it


Did you run into any major mechanical issues? What tools do you carry?

After five days of rain, snow, and mud I had to replace my roached out brake pads, lubed my chain a lot and tightened a few bolts that rattled loose, that was all. But I had a few tools and repair items with me, like extra spokes, chain links, and master links, zip ties, duct tape, bailing wire and an assortment of bolts and stuff like that. I carried a multi-tool with a chain tool, tire levers and a micro Leatherman.


Tour Divide winner Jefe Branham. Matt Burt photo.

Still smiling, Jefe cranks out the miles near Doyleville, Colorado.



How about physical issues? How did your body deal with such a brutal undertaking?

It hurt like hell - my knees swelled up, feet and ankles swelled up, butt was a terrible mess, not to mention the sleep deprivation. I took 2-4 Aleve every day - that shit is amazing. This race makes your body go into full revolt - everything gets pissed off and hurts, which is why it is such a mental game. Everyone hurts, but the ones who keep pushing hard through the pain will get there sooner.


What do you use for lights? How much time did you spend riding at night?

I used an SP Pd-X8 Dynamo hub that powered a Exposure Revo light. More light means safer riding, and I also had a Fenix ld22 on the helmet as well. I rode at night a lot - I was putting in anywhere from 17-24 hour days out there, and lots of that was in the rain. Yes, my eyes are tired.


What do you use for a sleeping bag / pad?

When I first started doing this stuff there wasn't any commercially available stuff that I could find, plus I have been sewing for years so I started making my own gear, then destroyed it and made it again. For this race I was able to make some pretty damn light bags that held up well to the abuse.


Tour Divide winner Jefe Branham. Dave Kozlowski photo.

There's plenty of time for soul searching and introspection during a race of this magnitude.



Is it difficult to consume enough calories every day? What's your diet like during the race?

Eat, eat, eat and dream about eating more. 80% of my food came from gas stations, so Fritos, gummy worms, salami, ice cream and 5 Hour Energy was on the menu. Also some diner food, whole rotisserie chickens from grocery stores and some Mickie D's. I ate junk food and lots of it - I bet I spent like $1000 on food. It is kinda gross, really.


How much sleep did you average a day? Did you have a pre-set plan of how much rest you were going to allow yourself each day?

Oh, my demon was not enough sleep. I went out hard in the beginning, too hard and didn't sleep much at all in the first three days, none the first night, 1.5 hours the second night, 3 hours the third, also did around 600 miles. I cooked myself right off the bat and was tired for the rest of the race. I would say I slept 3-5 hours a night most of the time. I tried to push it again at the end and sleep less, but ended up taking cat naps to keep my eyes open....


Tour Divide winner Jefe Branham. Vicki Rystrom photo.

Finished. 2,735 miles in 16 days, with an average of 169.64 miles per day.



Looking back, what was the hardest part of the whole race?

Oh man, it was so hard, Mud, snow, rain, admitting to myself that I was not going to do it in 14 days, admitting to myself that I was not going to break the record, getting out of my bivy as the alarm goes off when all I want to do is sleep. It's hard to say which of these was harder, it all kicked my ass. If I was to say one thing, it would be letting go of my dreams of setting a very hard to break record.

What was the best part?

Sunsets, big huge sunsets in awesome places, traveling down the whole spine of the country on my own power, seeing so many cool places, watching them come and go so many times a day, seeing and meeting great people, and finishing still alive and sane!


Now that you've won the Tour Divide, what's next?

Riding singletrack, drinking beer, hanging out with my dogs, car camping, supporting my teammates at races, and maybe I'll even try dating again.


82 Comments

  • + 44
 I think these races are the most impressive feats of human endurance in the whole world of sport. I have ludicrous amounts of respect for people like Jefe and Mike Hall and hope one day I can come remotely close to that level of fitness and commitment.
  • + 11
 Things like this are why "normal sports" like soccer, football, baseball, etc don't impress me very much.
  • + 3
 Mike Hall is an amazing athlete and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. He's also incredibly humble for the amazing feats he's pulling off on a bike. I had the pleasure of filming his adventure during the Trans Am Bike Race this year. www.inspiredtoride.it
  • + 3
 The title of his blog alone was a bit of a giveaway as to how I imagined he'd be as a person. His writing is pretty superb and I do regularly check back to see if he's written something. And by the way Mike, I was a big fan of Ride the Divide and your other work. I'm a photographer foremost and take away a great deal from what you do.
  • + 4
 There are accomplishments that make you think to yourself.... "If I apply myself, I can do that", there are others that you think "Wow, that is probably outta my league".... and then there are things like this that are so out of this world that it makes you rethink what is truly possible. I may never reach this level but I for one am inspired to ride harder. Thanks Jefe and congrats!
  • + 40
 Thanks Everyone, was the hardest 16 days of my life....and yes I am still riding on the same XX1 cassette.....
  • + 4
 Such a great achievement. I would love to hear more about it!
  • + 4
 so is there someone at the end to verify you've finished etc? looks a bit lonely in that photo! massive respect by the way :-)
  • + 3
 Amazing work! I like how you didn't weigh your bike, more people should do that. Are you going to run belt on that Tranny in the future?
  • + 2
 Hey Jefe,
First and foremost holy f*cking shit congratulations. That is insane. And secondly, if you don't mind me asking, what shop are you at? I leave and arrive in gunny next Monday for six days of riding and would be honored to buy you a beer. Or at least give you money for beer since I'm only twenty. Wink
  • + 35
 2735 miles in 16 days, with an average of 169.64 miles per day.

BATSH*T. Simply BATSH*T CRAZY. WOW
  • + 7
 It doesn't make sense... at all... I'll be doing this ride next summer and we're planning on taking 6-8 weeks to be safe. These guys are unreal. I wonder how that XX1 drivetrain held up with all the wear issues you hear about.
  • + 12
 Yeah. I'm pretty much toast after a road century, and that's just carrying water and some snacks. Anyone who finishes this at all is a beast, but 16 days is almost incomprehensible.
  • + 9
 Yeah, I was loking at the stats on the 2014 Tour de France, and it's ~2200 miles, with ~70k feet of climbing. It's always thrown around that it's the most physically demanding competition on Earth, but at 2700 miles & 200k feet of climbing, riding the Divide is far harder, especially since this guy did it in 16 days, whereas you're riding 20 days in the TDF.
  • + 11
 More importantly, its self-supported, and on dirt.
  • + 4
 Incredible story aside, I think it is awesome that he could ride like that being fueled by gas station foods, I have always felt that if you are active enough, you can about eat what you want and be alright and I think this is good evidence. Also, this is so inspiring, completing this race is something that I am going to do after college. So rad.
  • + 3
 and not to mention there are parts where you're a long ways away from any civilization. It's some true backcountry riding. the tour de france is for pussies. Wink
  • + 18
 glad to see the older dogs setting the records - make no mistake kids, if you do it right, life just keeps getting better and better as you age.
  • - 10
flag rowdycash (Jul 8, 2014 at 13:14) (Below Threshold)
 Don't mean any offense here, the record is 14 days, he didn't set it. he finished it 16 something days
  • + 7
 still very impresive for a man of 41years.
  • + 3
 the record is actually 15 days, 16 hours, 14 minutes
  • - 11
flag rowdycash (Jul 8, 2014 at 15:52) (Below Threshold)
 Ok bud- don't mean to piss you off or anything but you were the one that did just say that Jefe set the record, so nice personal correction!
  • + 3
 not in any way pissed off fella - you were right i was wrong. am approaching that age where being young seems so great, but stuff like this reminds me that i've got plenty of great years ahead of me, as long as i follow the right example. and this guy - 14, 15, or 16 days aside - is a righteous bro.
  • + 18
 Wait, the first time he raced it was on a singlespeed? This guy is a beast!!
  • + 13
 Woulda been better on a 26. More flickable.

JK. These guys are so amazing. And how in the hell do you find time to train for this kind of thing??? Go to work for 8 hours, ride for 8+ hours, sleep, do it again? The level of commitment is astounding.
  • + 12
 Having lived in Dillon and Butte Montana, and mountain biked around these areas, I truly respect these riders. Seeing them come through Dillon for a couple days every year was always kinda cool, and knowing that the race had just started for them was kinda humbling. The movie Ride the Divide is on netflix for anyone that hasn't seen it, very much worth watching.
  • + 3
 I'll have to watch that movie, also Eat, Sleep, Ride is a book about a roadie who wanted to get into mountain biking so he does this race as one of his first mountain rides. Its a really interesting look at the other side of this race. The side seen by us normal people.
  • + 3
 Emerett appreciate the plug for Ride the Divide! We just filmed a new project about the Trans Am Bike Race. More incredible feats by the likes of Mike Hall (who's done the Tour Divide Race) and many others… www.inspiredtoride.it
  • + 15
 Wow 36t chainring with that amount of climbing and mileage? Insane.
  • + 10
 I'm pretty sure I could do 2700 miles in 16 days... maybe even bang it out in less.... assuming all 2700 miles were perfectly groomed DH runs, I never had to pedal, and there was cabins set up every 200 miles with a comfy bed and breakfast waiting for me.
  • + 9
 Only had 6 hours of the sleep the night before and sending a text to my buddy that I'm too tired to ride today. Shame!
  • - 13
flag deepcovedave (Jul 8, 2014 at 12:00) (Below Threshold)
 You are joking me - right? Post that sh*t to Facebook only
  • + 16
 Panties on too tight?
  • - 7
flag deepcovedave (Jul 8, 2014 at 18:10) (Below Threshold)
 Yup. No reason to cancel the ride. Just ride.
  • + 8
 THOSE ARENT LEGS BATMAN THOSE ARE CANNONS!
  • + 4
 What kind of fork was he referring to when he said it would have to be rebuilt daily...? I'm sure most forks could manage the entire race without a rebuild. I've ridden suspension forks for multiple season, at least as many miles and vertical without rebuilding them...
  • + 6
 Just because you've done it doesn't make it right
  • + 4
 Since he is a mechanic, made his own light weight sleeping bag, and seems just completely dedicated; I'm guessing he is quite the precise guy and would be bothered if his fork didn't work 100 percent.
  • + 3
 I get it, I was taking it for face value, but it was just a figure of speech. Keeping it simple and maintenance free as possible is the ticket for something like this.
  • + 6
 The human body is capable of some pretty amazing things if you don't spend too much time in front of a screen eating potato chips.
  • + 5
 I recently tried to bikepack the AZT. We gave up after 3 days... You sir are more man than I. The Continental Divide is on my bucket list but I don't ever plan on racing it and certainly not in 16 days...
  • + 3
 I just rode a loop a decent sized loop in Pemberton BC that inuded "Lumpy's Epic" and am currently reading this while sitting down at "The Pony" eating an entire pizza to myself and am on my second pint. It's hard for me to comprehend people like Jefe... Huge props and I hope to read about this dude again! Smile
  • + 3
 Clearly I have a buzz going cause I can't write...
  • + 5
 Huge respect for anyone competing in this sort of endurance race, my mind simply boggles at the mental strength to be able to do something like this.
  • + 3
 Very Inspiring individual. I watched the documentary on Netflix called Ride the Divide which follows 3 riders from a few years ago that did the race. If you like biking in any form it is a good documentary. It misses a few points but it is interesting.
  • + 6
 Huge Props to Calvin Decker for taking 2nd as a rookie, only 22 yrs old! 18 Days 5 hours
  • + 3
 I have Fibromyalgia. Just me being able to get in two rides 14 mile rides a week is an amazing feat when trying to deal with the pain I get during and after rides. I used to love to do distance rides. Thank you for doing this ride and suffering through so much mental and physical pain. It gives me hope.
  • + 3
 Nice Article Mike!! Thanks for giving this truly remarkable accomplishment some press, I am blown away by all that even attempt this, but to basically ride it alone, in front of the pack for all those days is amazing, Good Work Jefe!
  • + 7
 Truly inspirational
  • - 6
flag AllMountin (Jul 8, 2014 at 13:25) (Below Threshold)
 Is it, though? I hear people say that, but nothing about Jefe riding 170 miles per day inspires me to want to do anything of the sort. I love riding way too much, and I'm pretty sure this would make me hate it. I respect the hell out of Jefe for the accomplishment, as an endurance athlete, but this bears virtually no resemblance to the sport I know and love.
  • + 6
 Ya i can understand that I'm sure i would hate being on my bike too after that much riding. But you take what you want from it. And to me its inspiring.
  • + 3
 @Allmountin, I appreciate you point of view, great comment even though some find it negative or off base. I think what people mean when they say it's inpirational is that it inspires them to do something beyong the ordinary, maybe grinding out 170 miles a day isn't necessarily it, but maybe it's learning a no-footed can can, or pushing your limits for a couple extra loops or learning to manual...
  • + 2
 I suppose it's not unlike climbers who self sacrifice to summit a great mountain peak or a swimmer crossing the English Channel. It's a great feat of endurance and an impressive athletic accomplishment. As a former distance runner, I can appreciate the magnitude of the challenge, and I do respect it. I do challenge myself technically, and push progression on a daily basis, so I guess there are parallels, but I also know that I could ride thousands upon thousands of miles of gravel and never touch the feeling that a great piece of singletrack can evoke. For me, the greatness of this sport lies in that feeling, and in the challenge/fulfillment cycle provided by technically progressive riding. At the end of the day, we ride to different ends and for different reasons, and that is okay.
  • + 3
 Congrats to all the riders that finished as well as those that tried but didn't get to the end. What an effort!! My older brother, Big Dave Wilson, just finished the Tour Divide, South to North in 20.5 days. What a ride.
  • + 2
 I rode the Tour north to south this year. Big Dave went by me in THE BASIN. I seriously thought he was on a little motorbike as he rode towards me, he zoomed up over the top of a little rise with a cloud of dust trailing behind him. Very impressive. We didn't stop and chat, just yelled out hellos and kept going.
  • + 3
 I wonder how that climbing is spread out, especially if he did it on a SS. average grade with 2,700 miles and 200k climbing is ~ 1%? insane amount of discipline and mental fortitude.
  • + 3
 Knee problems too?
  • + 3
 Jay Petervary, the record holder, works at Fitzgerald Bikes, our local bike shop in Victor, ID. He's quite insane to do it, solo/time-trial, in 15 days. Super humble, great guy and probably bat$hit crazy.
  • + 4
 I'm happy with 100 miles a month. 170 miles a day?!?! That is almost hard to even comprehend.
  • + 4
 Absolutely amazing... I can't even imagine pushing that long and that hard every day. Major props!
  • + 3
 Compliments Jefe!!! You would be probably able to compete with our Jure Robic if he would be still alive.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jure_Robi%C4%8D
  • + 5
 Salute you sir.awesome adventure and story.
  • + 3
 Being this far out in front of the pack he must have soloed the majority of the race. I can't comprehend how hard that would be to endure it all alone.
  • + 3
 Also check the race that goes around the whole world? Same self supported ride but even further.
  • + 3
 Mike Hall and Juliana Buhring have completed the round the world race and they just won the Trans Am Bike Race for men's and women's category. We filmed this event and it is going to make an amazing film. Should have it ready for release April/May 2015 www.inspiredtoride.it
  • + 1
 Amazing achievement Jefe. I was wondering what you do to look after your sram xx1 cassette and chain. I manage to stretch a chain and wear out a cassette after less than 150 hours on my sram x01. Thanks, Peter
  • + 4
 Damn impressive. Well done.
  • - 6
flag chiefstash (Jul 8, 2014 at 16:14) (Below Threshold)
 I agree, its a very challenging sport but the tights, I mean come on.
  • + 3
 really good documentary on netflix about this race, Ride the Divide. These guys push it to the absolute limits
  • + 3
 He's not a mountain biker, he's a science experiment! Jk. Amazing feat, truly incredible!
  • + 3
 3 months with the new bike and Strava says 127.8 miles. yes, i've been lazy with the 100-110 heat.
  • + 3
 Very impressive. Maybe he should try the Arizona Trail race.
  • + 3
 Jefe won the AZT in 2010, setting a new course record.
  • + 3
 Course he won. His name is Spanish for boss.
  • + 3
 Its hard to comprehend, simply amazing Mr. Branham!
  • + 3
 What a machine. Amazing work.
  • + 4
 Jefe means "boss".
  • + 3
 Holy crap!!!! This guy is awesome. fact.
  • + 3
 WOW! What a great guy and what a great race!
  • + 3
 Hats off to you good sir.
  • + 3
 Sick bro
  • + 3
 BEAST! great job

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