Wilcox pedals to prosperity in 9-day, 1,300-mile French Divide

August 28, 2018

Lael Wilcox bikepacking, biking

Lael Wilcox

Record-breaking bikepacking veteran Lael Wilcox of Anchorage is well rehearsed in overcoming obstacles on the trail, but nothing could have prepared her for what she experienced in the French Divide.

A relativity new race, the 1,300-mile event is still working out some kinks with its route and many times had riders breaking trail.

“The concept was great – crossing all of France on dirt roads and trails,” she told me. “Ultimately, this meant that sometimes we rode on pretty overgrown and rutted double-track in the woods, sometimes bushwhacking through blackberry thorns and stinging nettles.”

Hardly ideal conditions for a race, but that’s sort of the idea with bikepacking – an extreme off-road, self-supported sport that tests the strength, endurance and resolve of renown riders.

Wilcox, of East High fame, is considered one of the very best. In a matter of three short years she has made quite the name for herself with a string of remarkable results.

Add the French Divide to the list.

The 32-year-old Alaskan finished fifth in an almost exclusive all-male field of 101 riders in the French Divide after covering 2,267 kilometers in 9 days, 19 hours, 14 seconds.

“I was leading the race for the first five days or so,” Wilcox said.

The grueling long-distance race rewarded riders with glimpses of charming countryside towns.

“I loved riding through Champagne, Burgundy and the Massif Central,” she said. “The riding in the south was pretty technical – plenty of loose rock and unrideable surfaces. I loved the landscapes and the towns, but riding the Santiago de Compostela hiking trail was a bit rough and very muddy at times.”

There were days when she had to navigate the course without the benefit of her GPS. She would get lost and then find her way back on the right track.

“Unlike Alaska, France has thousands of roads, especially when looking on Google maps,” Wilcox said. “Some of these roads don’t exist anymore. Sometimes the race was routed on abandoned ancient roads. What I’m saying is, it was more of an adventure than a race.”

Wilcox is easygoing and generally stays in good spirits, but don’t let the smile fool you.

She pedals for prosperity.

“If I’m racing, I’m trying my best to win,” Wilcox said. “Generally entering races, I aim to win. The French Divide ended up being more of an experience than a race for me. I had a ton of fun out there, but I will never repeat this ride. If I’m going for experience, I’d rather go on my own trip with my own navigation.”