White flies through Tour Divide race

Parasite knocks Erik Lobeck out of competition in New Mexico


— Leighton White said it was confidence that launched him on the Tour Divide mountain bike race for the second consecutive summer.

The Steamboat Springs firefighter completed the 2,709-mile Canada-to-Mexico self-supported race in 23 days, 22 hours and 55 minutes last June and July. Confidence that he could lower that mark this year led him back to the Banff, Alberta, starting line.

Despite a major bike malfunction and what he described as considerably worse weather, his faith in his ability proved warranted.

White, one of two Steamboat Springs residents to start the massive tour, finished the race in 21 days, 5 hours and 15 minutes.

"It's one of those things that gets under your skin," White said about the race. "All winter, I thought, 'If did this differently,' or 'Maybe if I trained more.'

"I'm definitely glad I did it again. I knocked three days off my time. Considering the mechanical issues and the weather, it was pretty good."

Erik Lobeck had to pull out of the race just two days from the finish after succumbing to the giardia parasite, a waterborne little devil he likely picked up early in the race.

"I actually ended up in the Steamboat hospital after not being able to keep food or water down for five days," Lobeck said Thursday from Steamboat, almost fully recovered after withdrawing from the race July 2.

Going in, White said he thought he could make the trip faster and more fun with the knowledge he picked up a year ago.

He packed less and traveled more efficiently. But while a late spring hampered last year's Tour Divide, leaving many of the mountain passes still clogged with snow, incessant rainstorms waterlogged this year's race.

"It was so horrendous," he said. "On the course maps, there are sections where, in italics, it says, 'Road may be impassible when wet.' They aren't kidding. The mud was just unbelievable."

It was annoying, White said, when mud found its way into everything he carried with him. It was disastrous when the thick soup broke the derailer from his dual-suspension bicycle.

White had to adjust on the fly, transforming his bike into a singlespeed until he could reach a bike shop.

The delay knocked him from the group he'd latched onto and threatened to end his race before the halfway point.

But it didn't ruin the trip. White rode hard, staying out later and waking up earlier in the days after his breakdown. He eventually caught back up with the group he had started with, including Lobeck, and passed most of them. He was the fifth finisher. Five riders still remained on the trail as of Thursday evening, while 16 had made the finish line in tiny Antelope Wells, N.M.

"I won't do it again unless I'm on a motorcycle," White, back at work in Steamboat, said with a laugh. "About halfway through the race, I told my girlfriend to remind me that I said I would never do it again."

Lobeck, meanwhile, wouldn't rule out another crack at the exhausting trip, though he said the dream would take a spot on the back burner as he and his wife, Jessica, prepare for their first child.

He pulled out of the race in Pie Town, N.M., basically a wide spot on the road in the middle of the state. He managed to bunk up in a house open to trail users, but knew he couldn't go on.

He was 300 miles from the finish.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed I didn't get the chance to finish it out, but that was circumstances beyond my control," Lobeck said. "I dealt with all kinds of issues out there, from bike problems to pain in my knees and tendons. But I couldn't deal with something that doesn't allow me to keep any food or water down.

"I didn't give up. It was a great adventure, and it was fun while I was healthy."


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