Joel Reichenberger: Riders again tackling Tour Divide

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Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Joel here.

They're coming again.

They left from Banff, Alberta, at noon Friday, which means in about a week or 10 days, they'll be passing through Steamboat Springs.

Don't worry. You will notice them.

When the riders from last year's Tour Divide mountain bike "race" passed through town, they were hard to miss.

The Tour Divide isn't the granddaddy of all mountain bike races. In fact, this is only the third running of the race. But there are few other races in the world that can dish up the kind of challenges the Tour Divide riders will face.

The competition casts riders on a 2,711-mile journey from the small city of Banff in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, south through the United States to the Mexican border.

Along the way they fly over mountain passes that often are still clogged with snow, zoom past every sort of wildlife one could hope to see in the mountains and fight through long, hot stretches of desert near the finish line.

The Tour Divide race was born out of a fundamental disagreement. The Great Divide race started in 2004, sending racers from the U.S.-Canada border at Roosville, Mont., to Antelope Wells. After several years racing that 2,490-mile stretch, racers began to add the extra mileage in Canada.

The Great Divide race is set to start at noon Friday in Montana.

Steamboat Springs falls roughly at the halfway mark of the monumental trek and is one of the most significant towns the trail goes through. The town's bike shops, hotels and restaurants will prove a welcome sight to riders streaming down Routt County Road 129 after entering the state from Wyoming.

The race is a big enough challenge that it draws international interest. The Tour Divide started with 42 racers, a massive bump up from the 16 that started a year ago.

The field this year includes five racers from the United Kingdom, two from Canada and one each from Italy, Austria and Germany. United States racers hail from 17 states.

Tucked into that group is Matthew Lee, of Chapel Hill, N.C., who has recorded four of the 10 fastest times on the U.S. portion of the trail.

Also racing this year are Erik Lobeck and Leighton White, both of Steamboat Springs.

White is tackling the Tour Divide for the second time in as many years. He finished in a four-way tie for third last year after partnering with riders from as far as the United Kingdom and Germany.

Looking back at his comments after that race, it's not hard to figure out why he thought another three-week, nearly 3,000-mile trip was a good way to spend his time.

"Maybe we're the normal ones," he said after stopping for the night last year in Steamboat. "This is what we're supposed to be doing. We're supposed to be out seeing things and enjoying life."

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