Aiming towards The Tour Divide

By Col

Alex Baker is setting his sights on The Tour Divide Mountain Bike route

Alex Baker has taken on the challenge of The Tour Divide next year, plenty of time to get himself into shape then! Here’s a bit about him and hopefully we’ll be following his training as he gears up for some long days next June. All images courtesy of Joe Cruz.

The sun beat down on my back as I tried to winch my self up the hill to catch my friends. My legs burned from the effort as I mashed on the pedals to keep the bike moving forward. I was less than a quarter of the way up the climb and I was finished, with a sense of failure and shame I dismounted and pushed the bike slowly up the hill towards the summit. My name is Alex, I am 10 years old, and I am hopeless at cycling, defeated by the hill outside my front door.

So what should happen now is a series of vinaigrettes of joining a local cycling club, suffering on hills in the rain, some gym work outs, slowly working my way up the group until I lead the pack up an impossibly steep climb and through the finishing tape, fists raised in triumph. Sigur Ros would provide the soundtrack. What really happened is somewhat different. My name is Alex, I am 34 years old. I am now mediocre on a bike and I have just bitten off more than I can chew.

Next June I will be counting down to midday in the New Mexico desert next to a concrete boarder post (Staff:2) so I can race 2,796 miles across the Rocky Mountains to Banff over the border in Canada. I will be on my own and carrying all I need on the bike for 27days of riding over 100miles a day. Every day. The Tour Divide is penned as the world’s toughest mountain bike race and while the miles will be a challenge it is the loneliness that terrifies me and that is the part that will be the hardest to train for.

My cycling history progressed form a 24” wheeled, 5 speed racing bike to a BMX and on to a mountain bike. With the MTB came short cross country races that were popular in the 90’s It also turned out that I sucked at 1.5hrs racing in circles against the race whippets even if I shared their build. Why didn’t my legs learn to turn the pedals fast and hard like the other races? Despondent with the racing I went back to what I liked about cycling – the ability to explore and have fun.

With many years of riding for fun, weekend rides all over the country and some short tours I found that the longer the distance the better I was. My first 100km ride was the Hell of the North Cotswolds that I completed on a cross bike. Buoyed by the discovery that long distance and navigation were my “thing” I entered a 200km road ride from London to Dunwich. This showed me that saddle and pedals issues could cripple you in a short time if not spot on. I started to ride longer each weekend and sort my position on the bike and the contact points. It became and obsession, and eventually a job for a few years designing custom fitted frames.

In 2007 I signed up for a 9 day MTB race in India. I wanted to find out if I could ride up to 100km a day in the mountains for 9 days straight. The chance to eat curry for 3 meals a day, everyday appealed as well. I trained as much as I could which mainly consisted with trying to keep up with the fast guys in the local mountain bike club in the rolling Cotswold hills. I also started to plan what kit I needed with me. My love affair with the digital kitchen scales can be traced back to this point.

I raced as hard as I could in the heat and dust but it was not until 4 days in when I felt on top of things. By then I had given up on trying to crowd round the laptop each night to check my position and got on with enjoying the ride. It came as a shock at the prize giving that I had taken third place in the solo men’s category and set the first singlespeed time for the race.

So 3 years later I am sitting in front of the laptop planning the craziest trip yet. The fitness, navigation, equipment, mental preparation all have to come together on the 10th June next year if I am to have a hope in hells chance on the long trip north. I might just surprise myself.

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