I’ve got my bike figured out and built my navigation plan. I’m basically ready to show up and ride, yet I find myself laying awake at night worried about unforeseen breakdowns, missed cues, and potential disaster. I decided to email a Tour Divide interview to Ryan Sigsbey, who I met on a Jasper Freewheel group ride just days before he successfully began the 2013 TDR. We’ve actually ridden in Jasper twice, and I’ve since learned he is not only a diehard mountain biker rider but also wicked outdoor photographer.
The Tour Divide Interview with Ryan Sigsbey
Q: Before you started, we went for a short ride in Jasper. You seemed pretty excited about Tour Divide. Did you have any real doubts about finishing? If not, what made you so sure you could finish the ride. If so, what were your biggest concerns.
A: It had been a long time coming, being that close to starting was really exciting! I had tons of doubts about whether I could finish or not. I think I was mostly worried about my body holding up. Of course, I had no clue how I would handle some of the mental lows I knew I would encounter. I just figured I would try to keep a positive attitude no matter what, which was a real challenge.
Q: What part of the ride – from long hours in the saddle to finding food, renting hotel rooms, and camping overnight – was easier than you expected? What part was harder?
A: I realized I could sustain a moderate pace for many long hours and that seemed easier to me than I had initially thought. I have done other long races and felt worse during those single day events than I ever did on the Divide. It’s just a different sort of beast. There are so many other issues that I was dealing with on a daily basis. I just felt that if I kept pushing on, no matter how fast or slow, it was progress towards Antelope Wells.
Q: Did you carry any gear you didn’t need? What about something you wish you’d had with you?
A: I was really happy with my setup and it ended up working out really well. There were certainly a few things I didn’t end up using but mostly because we had such good weather and I didn’t have any mechanicals. I really liked having my little ZPacks tent on the nights I camped out. It was a little time consuming setting it up and and taking it down. I can see where a simple bivy-sack would be a quicker option for sure.
Q: You rode a Salsa El Mariachi bike ( I think) with Revelate Design gear. What was your setup like – tubeless? geared? Aerobars? Etc – and what would you change if you were to do TDR again?
A: I rode a Salsa El Mariachi Titanium frame with a suspension fork, full Shimano XT build, Avid BB7 brakes, Revelate Design Bags, tubeless, gears, areobars. I ran with three 32 oz water bottles and had a 3 liter bladder for backup. I never really needed the bladder and could have just bought water bottles and threw them in my bag. I also carried a really small packable backpack (2 oz. by Sea to Summit) for when I needed to carry some extra food or water. I used it a few times. We were re-routed around the Gila section which is really where that would have come in handy.
Q: Did you swap any bike gear throughout the race – new chain, cassette, tires, etc?
A: I had to get a new chain and new rear tire in Steamboat. That was really the only maintenance I had to do aside from putting some air in my tires from time to time. I feel like I got pretty lucky!
Q: How many flats did you have along the way?
A: Zero! Nobody believes me though.
Q: How did you perform compared to your pre-race goals?
A: I did a lot better than I ever thought I would! I will admit that we did have exceptional conditions on the trail and excellent weather. Without the cooperation of the weather, I could have easily been out there for several more days. I was shooting for under 27 days with a secret goal of around 23-24 days
Q: What would you have had to do differently to complete the race faster/where did you lose the most time?
A: I lost a lot of time getting to towns in the evening, getting a big meal and then staying there for the night. I tried not to waste time doing anything but eating and sleeping. I generally left super early in the morning. It was mostly about getting that good quality meal and sleep which was really important for the next day’s performance. Even though I lost a lot of time, it was time well spent.
There were some folks that had different strategies that were riding right along with me. Some would push on into the evening, only to be caught the next day before noon. The people who stayed in a motel and got the extra sleep were much fresher the next day and simply caught up to the other riders who pushed on. Unless I was really willing to push it and rely on little or poor quality sleep, it was hard to justify pushing on.
If I were to do it again I would really focus on being more efficient in towns and learning how to recover in a shorter amount of time.
Q: Describe, in as few words as possible, the overall Tour Divide Race experience.
A: Racing the Divide pushed me to my breaking point and provided an elation I had never known. I am forever changed.
Q: I worry it’ll be quite disappointing to ride into Antelope Wells alone, then just have to turn around and start riding back to a highway with transportation to an airport. Describe what finishing felt like.
A: Finishing was a little strange. I had a ride lined up from a guy who operates a shuttle from Antelope Wells. He tends to pick up groups on a daily basis, sometimes making multiple trips in a day.
I was surprised by my uncle as he drove by me on the final stretch. Sean Putnam finished 30 minutes before me so he was there too. I had spent a lot of time riding with him so it was nice to see him at the finish.
I will say riding that long stretch of pavement alone gave me lots of time to reflect on those last few weeks. It’s a mix of wanting to get to the finish to be done but also not wanting it to be over. It really is bittersweet. Riding The Divide is such a simple existence yet each day carries with it many challenges to overcome. I’m already dreaming of taking on the Divide again one day.