Pre Race Blog - The Tour Divide

I can’t believe that it’s June! Where has this year gone?! It seems impossible to have been to Svalbard with the Rab team, the Alps twice, the Emirates Literary Festival in Dubai all in 2015 already, and only last week to have won the best rugby book at the Cross British Sports Book Awards with Beyond The Horizon! I feel so grateful, but I work hard too! In fact where has the last 18 months gone since returning home from my Antarctica expedition! Fast forward to today, as I write this from a cafe in Banff, Canada drinking coffee the day before the 2015 Tour Divide Race.

It’s not quite the chilled picture that I’m painting. My emotions are all at storm, tomorrow on Friday at 07:50 Banff, Canada time (14:50 UK time) along with about 169 other adventurous souls, I will start the 2015 Tour Divide Race. A 2,745 mile (4,418km), self supported and off road time trial to Antelope Wells on the Mexican border.

IMG_1794.jpg

Richard meets his Specialized Stumpjumper for the first time at Specialized HQ back in April.

This is the first phase of the development cycle building towards my (currently confidential) expedition next year. Nic (Dr Nicola Phillips - my physio and PD) and I have learned from the unorthodox development cycle that I followed for Antarctica in 2014. It might’ve made watchable TV as I suffered through the Peruvian Jungle, Himalayas and closer to home Snowdonia, but it was a gamble to fit such demanding (and different) events into just 9 months, even though we had specific objectives for each. Thanks to the awesome team I had around me, I was able to take more from each of them than I could’ve imagined, which has led me here!

The Tour Divide has captured my imagination. The wonderful brutality of it, the privileged opportunity to perform in such beautiful wilderness and the adventure of the unknown along the way! I also love the tradition and sportsmanship of it. There are no entrance fees, no prize money, yet it attracts some of the very best ultra endurance athletes on the planet competing on a level field with anyone adventurous enough to turn up in Banff on the second Friday in June! Obviously everyone has different motives for being here, but we are all bonded by a purity that often gets overlooked in the commercial culture of sport these days.

I have met so many people from all over the globe here for the race, all shapes, sizes, colours and accents! There’s such an amazing vibe here in Banff, its obvious who’s racing as you see bikes fit for the apocalypse outside every cafe. Everyone says hi and talks, it’s a far stretch from my regular pet hate out on the bike when people can’t be bothered to say hiya back when you make the effort. I met a father and daughter team riding a tandem single speed - seriously! and a Kiwi called Rob who’s here for his second year in a row! Rob and I spent most of yesterday talking effortlessly about life - his philosophy to eat breakfast with his kids every morning as he sees a greater importance on sharing what they are planning to do, that to look backwards at what they did in the evening. The race risk, although mountain lions and bears capture the imagination and fear of racers, it’s the wild dogs that pose the most realistic risk, and we talked through almost every detail of our systems and strategies. Just like my time waiting for weather in Punta Arenas, Chile before Antarctica, I’m always blown away by the openness and generosity of the people I meet in the most extreme of situations. There are very few egos in the corners of the planet.

DSC_0012.jpg

Richard's steed for the Tour Divide.

For the race I’m riding a Specialized Stumpjumper Elite M5 off the shelf, with a few modifications. The team at Specialized have really gone the extra mile to help me for this one, it’s been awesome to set up the bike with their experience and expertise. We’re all just passionate about bikes at the end of the day! The Stumpy Elite is a 29er hardtail bike, and one of the main modifications we’ve made is swapping the suspension forks for rigid carbon Specialized Chisel forks. They’re lighter and in a self-supported race through some of the most remote country on the planet, less to go wrong is massive. (There’s less phone and sat phone coverage on this race that on my Antarctica expedition.) When I can I’ll be updating Twitter and maybe even writing a blog or two with the help of the amazing Tracy and Limegreentangerine guys!

Adam and the guys from Specialized HQ rebuilt my wheels making them slightly heavier than the stock set up, but durability is equally important to weight. I’ve opted for the stock Roval Control carbon rims, but the spokes have been replaced with DT Swiss Alpine III spokes and a DT Swiss 240s hub on the rear, with an SP Dynamo hub on the front to generate power for my electronics. They’re still light!

My cockpit - that’ll be my existence for the 14+ hours a day, and refers to my handlebars, is pretty pimp! I’m using the Australian brand - KLite light and USB charging system powered by the dynamo front hub. All the electronics fit neatly into a Revelate Designs top tube bag. As well as a camera system, bar ends, body geometry grips, a GPS unit and some cord to hold my map it’s pretty straight forward - most of all organised! For my OCD, and also trying to make life as simple as possible for my mind when it starts to fatigue. 

DSC_0002.jpg

My camera system for this race is super simple…but really tech! If that makes sense! I’m passionate about photography and obviously want to document this, if only to remind myself of the pain so that I never enter it again! Ha! I’ve been using Sony gear since my 737 Challenge, but I’ve been really impressed with their latest generation Action Cams and phones. With weight being crucial, I’ve synced the action cam with my Xperia Z3 phone so that I can remotely control the camera and also view find through my phone - so I know where I’m pointing it! In addition, my phone has s a 20mp camera and acts as a back up GPS loaded with maps and the Tour Divide route. I can use the GPS on the phone even without signal. The Z3 is waterproof too! Having broke 7 camera brackets in 7 days filming on the Yak Attack in 2013, I’ve opted for aluminium mounts, as well as being stronger, they’re tidier too.

The final, and I'm sure you’ll be thinking the most important modification is my saddle and seat post. I’ve tried so many saddles now, as I seem to have a sensitive ‘gooch’ or perineum! Although designed for road time trial bikes, I’m using a Specialized Sitero saddle. I love it, I bought it before I began working with Spec, and my ‘gooch’ has never looked back! The final rear end addition is the CG-R seat post, which was designed for the cobbles on the Tour de France. It’s got 10mm of vertical compliance, which takes the buzz and some of the bump out of my ass!

Off the shelf the bike is a cross-country rocket, with a few tweaks it’s a 2,745 mile rocket. Although not ridden like a rocket I might add! Ha! 

I’m particularly smug about my sleeping system. Stored upfront on my handlebars, I’m using a super light and super warm (for the weight) Rab Neutrino 200 sleeping bag. Recovery is key in endurance, and sleep can be the foundation to that. Underneath will be a Thermarest NeoTherm mat, and protecting me from the potential snow, rain, hail and mosquitos will be my Rad Ridge Raider Bivi. Protecting me from the elements outside my bivy, I am super excited to test the new Rab Flashpoint jacket. It’s a fully featured 3-layer shell weighing in at just 180g! Insane! Rab is a mountaineering and climbing brand, which I sincerely trust my life with on expeditions, but they make super durable and super light equipment, which I believe is the best solution for many adventures. I plan to sleep indoors where I can on route - especially in heavy bear country, but I’m not shy of bivying on the trail side if it’s more convenient. No Jelly Bellies on this one, my luxury will be 4 hours in a bed and a shower from time to time!

Talking of recovery, one of the first items I pack on trips are my firefly devices. Please forgive me if it sounds like a commercial, it’s not. Every one of my partners and the items that make up my systems I have paid for with my own money before I was lucky enough to be supported by them. I am passionate about the details. I paid for firefly devices to test them on the Yak Attack Race in 2013, and have used them ever since. I used them in Antarctica on my speed record expedition and I plan to use them here to flush the toxins from my legs whilst I sleep. In fact working with the firefly team, I’m testing some prototype second-generation devices this race as well. 

Fuel is a concern for me. Unable to carry all the food necessary for the race, the rules permit us to stock up en-route in shops and dinners. I simply can’t plan as I don’t know what will be available, especially as there’s 170 riders starting this race which adds a new challenge - unless you're running on the front there’s the risk of small towns and shops being emptied by riders in front of you! Where I can, I will try to keep my calories clean, but it’ll be a case of eating as much as I can and when I can. I’m working to my systems that perform well for me, fueling about 60-80g of carbs every 1hr 15min, but eating a balanced protein and fat diet too.

I will need all the recovery skills that I have for this race as my target is a modest mid-twenty days (considering the amazing Mike Hall has gone under 15 days!). That’s 180km a day off road carrying all my gear. There’s over 200,000 vertical feet of climbing throughout the race, the equivalent of over 7 Everests! What goes up must come down too though! Some of the guys (men and women) here will crush that, some will take a little longer and a good percentage will drop out through mechanical, physical or mental breakdown. The truth is that all our goals are simply to get the finish line, the race is within ourselves not each other. I’m not in the best shape, Nic’s been pulling long hours once again to get me to the start line, but that’s why I chose this. If I finish injury free I will have made the physical and psychological gains that will put me in a strong position to begin training in earnest for the next project. And as I love performing in wilderness environments, what an amazing office to have the next few weeks!

I asked one of the race veterans yesterday, Billy, who had just ridden from Mexico in 19 days to start this race back to Mexico (looking as fresh as if he’d just stepped out of a taxi here!), what his advice to a rookie would be. I’m a rookie here you see. He paused, and said “No negative thoughts ever!”  Ha! Fair point, but easier said than done! In all seriousness, the real challenge of any expedition or event like this is a mental one. It goes without saying that performance is built on a strong physical and technical foundation, but what happens when we reach our body’s self protective limits and walls. The battle is a mental one to push and override these limits. The mind has a huge role to play in endurance. But isn’t that like life too? Our minds play such a huge part in our life experiences. Whatever circumstances or events life throws at us - good and not so good, it’s our minds that filter that information. One of the reasons why I’m so proud to be an ambassador to the Welsh Government for the Welsh Year of Adventure in 2016 and a Sport Wales board member, is that I’m passionate about promoting the benefits of sport, adventure and the outdoors. And Wales obviously! I believe that every time that we step outside our comfort zones, and it doesn't have to be epic - comfort zones are relative - we can learn a little more about ourselves and the world we live in. I also believe that this knowledge can help us grow and manage the life challenges that we all face every day.

Anyway, enough from me! Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy following me and the other ‘blue dot’ Tour Divide racers on the Track Leaders website. I wouldn't be able to do this without the help, support and patience from so many people, who each play a vital cog in my team. Thank you, you know who you are! 

To follow the riders routes and live progress, click HERE

To find out more about the Tour Divide, click HERE

Congratulations to all the racers, families, volunteers & @SnowsportWales @otchampery team. #welshalpinechamps #wishiwasthere #nextyear 89 days ago