If you think the Tour de France is the hardest bike race on earth, consider the Tour Divide. On this annual race from Banff, Canada, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, racers roughly follow the Continental Divide for 2,780 miles. Mileage and terrain are only part of the challenge, as participants must follow a strict code of self support by carrying everything they need and accepting no outside aid except for what they can purchase along the route. At 9 a.m. this Friday (June 10), 74 cyclists will take up the challenge. Because of record snowpack, the pervasive threat of wildfires, and the largest field in the race's history, 15 riders will set off northbound at the same start time from Antelope Wells, and another 14 riders will try the course as a time trial throughout the summer.
In the southbound pack is Kurt Refsnider, a Boulder, Colorado, based geologist who has to be considered one of the favorites to win. In his first attempt at the Tour Divide in 2009, Refsnider finished less than 12 hours behind ultra-racing legend Matthew Lee to take second place overall (and top rookie finish). Since then, the 32-year-old has gained precious ultra experience and racked up some impressive wins, including two formidable records on the Arizona Trail Race in 2010. The day before he set out for Banff, we talked to Refsnider about his goals, his rig, and the unpredictable challenges (think large nocturnal rodents) of racing the Tour Divide.