While Marlborough eyes were focussed on Craig Harper’s Ride Across America last month, another cyclist was racing across the US mainland, albeit in a completely different direction.
Former Marlborough Boys’ College student Tony Le Sueur, now a police officer in Taupo, tackled and conquered the Tour Divide, an annual event with a lower profile then the RAAM, but with a unique set of challenges.
The mountain bike race, of which 90 percent is off-road, follows a 2745 mile [4418km] course from the Canadian town of Banff, Alberta to the US/Mexico border. Riders are unsupported, meaning they must carry their own sleeping gear, medical supplies and food, resupplying their stocks along the way. There are no entry fees, prizes or checkpoints, riders carrying GPS trackers at all times so their paths can be monitored.
In his first attempt, Tony finished fifth overall, arriving at the finish line in Antelope Wells, New Mexico, in 16 days, eight hours, 24 minutes, well within his 18-day target time.
The 45-year-old, who rode the Tour of Aotearoa in 2016 and 2018, warmed up for the Tour Divide by cycling from Alaska to Panama City with his wife Karen, covering around 26,000km in 11 months.
When Karen returned home, Tony travelled to San Diego and trained in the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges before tacking the Divide, an event he admitted “had been in the back of my mind for the past two years … it’s probably the premium bike-packing race in the world.
“The opportunity was there. I was already over there and had the time off work.
“It was definitely a hard race, very hard, but more enjoyable than I had expected. Because I find racing generally takes the fun out of things, it just becomes a grind.
“It was a lonely old ride though. Over 16 days I probably spent two hours riding with other people. You are all on your own.”
He was happy with his time in which was a fast-run race this year. “Normally 18 days would put you in the top 10, this year by the end of 16 days the top 10 had finished, so it was really fast.”
The winner, American Chris Seistrup, completed the course in around 15 days 11 hours 24 minutes. Nine Kiwis participated in the event.
With the course following the path of the Continental Divide, there was around 58,000m of climbing involved. Tony said his final day was the biggest, riding 539km in 36 hours on featureless landscape, with “a couple of half hour naps on the side of the road”.
He estimated that he chewed through 8-10,000 calories per day, foot-long Subway sandwiches being a favourite when he could source them.
The ride was not without its mechanical and natural challenges.
Around the halfway mark his front wheel “blew to pieces”, necessitating replacement and an eight-hour delay, then he spent 36 hours stuck in a lodge in Colorado after being unable to negotiate a mountain pass due to deep mud. The alternative to waiting was to carry his bike for around 16 miles, an option he quickly vetoed.
He was also struck by a bird at night and nearly skittled by a deer, but finished the race in relatively good condition, considering the magnitude of the journey.
“I just felt tired and worn out,” Tony said. “I had problems with an inflamed Achilles tendon, which was really sore for three or four days then disappeared, had a super-sore arse, and some serious chafing, which has just settled down a week later.”
Tony recalled the race finish was somewhat underwhelming. “The border crossing was closed, it was about 40 degrees and there was a sign basically saying ‘Antelope Wells’. It was kind of anti-climactic, but bloody satisfying. I enjoyed [the race] … in a strange sort of way.”
Another shot at the Tour Divide appears unlikely for Tony, although he hasn’t ruled out future endurance challenges.
“There is a race in Australia, from the east coast to Ayers Rock … around 3500km, which is quite appealing,” he added.