Ultra-light on The Tour Divide
Apidura ambassador Ulrich Bartholmoes is known for his minimalist and detail-orientated approach, leading to multiple wins at high profile ultra-distance events. On June 9th he’ll make his debut at the start line of the Tour Divide, a route which spans from Banff, Canada to New Mexico, United States – and is widely considered to be the pinnacle of off-road racing. With eyes on a podium finish, Ulrich shares his thoughts ahead of the 4,300km challenge.
Ulrich’s impressive history of ultra-distance events has been characterised by packing light and racing fast. Even with the distance and off-road requirements of his next challenge, Ulrich has managed to avoid compromise on his minimalist principles. However, the nature of the Tour Divide route means there are some unfamiliar obstacles: long sections of mountain bike terrain, high altitudes of almost 3,500m and significantly fewer opportunities to re-supply. In his own words, Ulrich has identified five aspects of the route that have been central to his setup and packing decisions…
From the very beginning, it was clear that if I was going to ride the Tour Divide, I would choose a mountain bike rather than a gravel bike. Looking at the versatility of the terrain, and particularly the rough sections, I want to prioritize the advantages of comfort that a suspension fork offers. The hardtail will be able to withstand the demands of continuously rugged trails and hopefully mistakes will be more easily forgiven.
In an unusual move, I have opted for drop bars rather than flat bars. I prefer having several grip positions, which benefit the hands and wrists over a route as long as the Tour Divide. There is also the familiarity; I do all of my training on road and gravel bikes, so I feel more confident on dropbars.
For the first time I will be using a dynamo-powered front light. This will remove the mental burden of battery logistics – thinking about the need to stop and re-charge can often be a tiring distraction from the focus of riding. One less thing to think about will be a relief! I have also installed a USB charger that can convert electricity from the dynamo into capacity for various devices. This will mean increased autonomy as I’ll no longer be reliant on having a power socket nearby where I sleep.
With one of the brightest lights on the market, I’ll feel safe travelling faster and throughout the night!
Over the years my ultra-racing experiences, from GranGuanche to the Transcontinental have taught me to be as lightweight as possible – I am always trying to remove unnecessary items from kit list. My preparation for the Tour Divide will be no different, but I have given an extra consideration to safety. The route has an extensive range of scenarios that I will need to be prepared for. My setup has to include options for the cold temperatures of high-altitude mountains and the heat of desert-like landscapes. For the first time I will carry an entire all fully waterproof outfit: trousers, a top, socks and gloves. All of my kit choices have already been tested and every item has proven to be reliable in complex situations. The added bonus is that everything fits into the Backcountry Saddle Pack 6L, so there has been no compromise on packing light!
An added complexity will be carrying extra water capacity. I plan to use the Backcountry Hydration Backpack and it’s 2-litre water bladder, alongside two water bottles in the exterior mesh pockets. With the additional internal space, I can prepare for the worst of the long, dry sections by carrying a total 5-7litres of water. On the other hand, the backpack is so light that it doesn’t bother me when I simply carry it empty on my bike, using the front pockets for easy access to items on the go.
On “shorter” distances, of up to 1,200KM, I have learnt to be able to ride without the need for sleep. This tactic was unthinkable for me in my first races, but with each experience my ability to assess my body in the absence of sleep has improved. The terrain and external conditions will always have an effect during each event.
On a route of 4,300km my approach is completely different. For such a long race it is especially important to find my own solid rhythm, right from the start. As I do in normal life, I will try to establish a routine, pausing for meals at specific times and stopping for sleep within a similar time window. Staying within these consistent biorhythms will allow my body to get used to the strenuous change.