Missoula, Montana — Mountain biking’s greatest race — and one of the toughest competitions in all of sport — has begun. The second-annual Tour Divide launched today at 10 a.m. from Banff, Alberta, with 42 racers, the largest field of Divide racers ever.

Riders will race over 2700 miles down the spine of the Rocky Mountains along Adventure Cycling’s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Pedaling the entire distance to the Mexican border along primarily dirt roads, without any outside assistance, competitors will climb nearly 200,000 vertical feet from start to finish. In classic touring tradition, racers carry everything they need — food, water, shelter — on their bikes and backs, with refueling stops in small-town stores along the way. Riders are truly on their own, with no support crews, SAG vehicles, or massage-teams allowed, making the Tour Divide the longest, most-challenging cycling race in the world.

Not content with the 2,490 miles traveled by the Great Divide Race (the original race on the Great Divide Route), the Tour Divide was created last year to incorporate the Canadian section of the route from Banff to the American border.

This year the Tour Divide field is stacked with the last three Divide race winners competing: John Nobile, who set the American course record in last year’s Great Divide Race; Matthew Lee, last year’s Tour Divide champion and the current record holder for the full Canadian/American route; and Jay Petervary, the 2007 Great Divide Race champion, is back to race the complete route with his wife Tracey Petervary on a custom tandem 29er. They will be the first tandem riders in a Great Divide Route race. Kurt Refsnider, the winner of the recent Arizona Trail Race, and Joe Meiser, who just snagged first place in the Trans-Iowa race, are also racing.

The Tour Divide is pioneering a new stretch of Great Divide Route this year — 105 miles of virgin riding through British Columbia’s Flathead Valley. Tour Divide organizer Matthew Lee worked tirelessly this year piecing together jeep roads and game trails to bring the race through the wild and remote valley. This new section will be adopted as part of the official Great Divide Route later this year.

Exactly one week from today, on Friday, June 19, another group of riders will set off on the route’s original race as the sixth annual Great Divide Race kicks off at high noon in Roosville, Montana. Its riders follow rules similar to the Tour Divide, including no outside support of any kind.

To learn more about the Tour Divide, visit www.tourdivide.org. Racer positions can be followed online via the SPOT units each racer carries. MTBCast will carry daily podcasts with commentary and phoned-in reports from the racers themselves at www.mtbcast.com. Information on the Great Divide Race can be found at www.greatdividerace.com .

Adventure Cycling supports all riders of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, but does not organize or officially sponsor either race. In fact, no one sponsors the races — both are grassroots by design, with exactly zero dollars in prize money for the winners.

Adventure Cycling has devoted a section of its website to the emerging practice of ultralight cycling — a multi-day riding style pioneered by Great Divide racers but applicable to backyard adventurers everywhere — here: www.adventurecycling.org/ultralight .

Cyclists looking to experience the Great Divide Route and mountain-bike travel at a more relaxed pace can simply pick a scenic stretch and go ride — Adventure Cycling’s detailed maps for the route make finding your way easy.