The Tour Divide

(Words, Josh Ibbett. Photos, Ryan Le Garrec & Rupert Hartley)

The Great Divide is a 2,745 mile, off-road mountain bike route, running from Banff in Canada down the length of the Rocky Mountains to the US/Mexico border. It crosses the watershed Divide many times along the way and seeks out old forest roads, high mountain passes and dirt tracks less travelled.

The route was established in 1998 and since 2005 the Tour Divide grand depart has been held every year on the second Friday in June.

It was one of the original bike packing races and has developed into one of the most prestigious events on the bike packing calendar.

The current course record is held by the late Mike Hall, who completed the ride in 13 days, 22 hours and 51 minutes in 2016.

The Tour Divide was the first time I came across bike packing and ultra-racing. I read an article in a magazine around 2006 about one of the first editions of the event and it peaked my interest. At the time I was racing 24 hour mountain bike races and mountain bike stage races so this seemed to be the next logical step, although at the time I was intimidated by the idea.

However, I kept an eye on the event and particularly the successes of Mike Hall as he first took on the Divide in 2011 and then returned to beat the record in both 2013 and again in 2016. By this time I knew I would one day ride the Divide but at that point was still too intimidated to do so.

Since 2013, I had been banking experience in various ultra events, so heading into 2019 I knew it was my time.

It was as magical and traumatic as I’d expected.

I let the years of intimidation get the better of me and despite being in some of the best form of my life, I allowed my head to negatively control my body. I often stopped early and took the option of hotels when really, I should have carried on riding into the night.

Some bad luck with the weather later in the race caused a delay of a few days,  but by the end I managed to get my head in order and ride the last part of the route in a more respectable manner.

Finishing in 16 days and 16 hours was not what I wanted for the Divide in 2019, however I left with much more respect for the route and the knowledge that a much faster time was achievable. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I have been able to pick apart that 2019 ride in the years since.

Almost two years of being stuck at home during Covid has put things in perspective. Despite the history and status of the Tour Divide, I now realise that it’s just a bike ride, a bike ride that I’ve chosen to do. Yes there will be hard times but I now don’t take the fact I can travel freely on my bike for granted. The Divide is there to be ridden, in fact I’ve already ridden it, and I feel like I have absorbed as much knowledge of the route as I can.

The Divide is a magical thing, it gets under your skin and I now understand why people keep on going back year after year.

My philosophy with kit is to take a number of lightweight layers, to be able to adapt to the changeable conditions. The Divide can throw all conditions at riders, from snow and negative temperatures in the North, to 40 degree heat in the desert of the South.

Dealing with heat is easier kit wise, essentially just wear less and keep hydrated. The challenge comes when faced with adverse conditions for days on end. Getting cold wastes energy and stopping for shelter kills forward momentum, so my kit is focused around keeping riding in the worst weather conditions. The Zoa rain shell is probably the sturdiest item of clothing in my kit list, but it will be worth its weight in gold if the conditions close in. I’m a big fan of a hooded jacket as you can really batten down the hatches against the elements. Hoods also trap a lot of heat which is crucial to save energy over the duration of the route.

The product team at Albion have been very receptive to helping develop specific items of kit for my Divide pack list. I am a big fan of the Ultralight Insulated Jacket for its small pack size, however I wanted something a little more substantial that would also help keep me warm sleeping. Adding a hood to the jacket gives that extra protection for the early morning starts, long mountain descents and of course a little extra warmth when tucked up in the bivi. Whilst I hope that the rain jacket is not required and the temperature is too warm to need the insulated jacket, it would be naive to think they won’t be used! I’m also taking the pocket bib shorts which I tested earlier in the year at the Race around Rwanda.

You can check out a collection of the Albion kit that I’ll be using here.

Heading back to the Divide I hope to take advantage of my 2019 experience. Some nights when I find myself lying in bed unable to sleep I trace the Divide route in my mind. I’m sure it will play out differently to 2019, however I feel more mentally prepared. My body is strong, I trust my bike and kit, so all I need to do now is turn up and press the pedals.

View Josh Ibbett’s 2022 Tour Divide Kit List.

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