A ride for the ages: Prescott’s Chris Seistrup wins grueling Tour Divide
There’s something special in Chris Seistrup’s blood.
Yes, the 38-year-old Prescott mountain biker has a mild case of the hereditary bleeding disorder hemophilia B. He’s missing part of the platelets in his blood that clot when he’s cut or bruised, taking him longer to heal.
Nevertheless, the blood that courses through Seistrup’s veins is far from imperfect. If anything, it fuels his passion for long-distance biking and raising money to help other hemophiliacs.
On June 29, Seistrup won the grueling Wheels for the World: Lost on the Tour Divide race, which follows the length of the Continental Divide. Starting on June 14, he completed the 2,732-mile ride, from Banff, Alberta, Canada, to the southwestern tip of the New Mexico-Mexico border, in 15-plus days.
The odds were stacked against him not only because of his disorder. Per race rules, he rode alone the entire trip – trudging through Rocky Mountain passes toward the unforgiving New Mexico Desert.
Seistrup carried his gear on his bike. He strategically planned stops for food and water.
He slept wherever he could for three to four hours a night during that two weeks, riding upwards of 200-plus miles in a day.
In addition, more than a handful of world-class cyclists competed. A laundry list of obstacles for Seistrup, but would he waver?
Let’s get back to this man’s blood for a minute. Seistrup’s been treated three times in his life for hemophilia B, but he knows of others who require treatment three times per week.
For the Tour Divide race, Seistrup helped raise more than $30,000 for Massachusetts-based Save One Life charities. He rode to honor cyclist Barry Haarde, a Texas native who became the first person with hemophilia, HIV and hepatitis C to finish a coast-to-coast ride. Haarde cycled more than 20,000 miles and generated more than $250,000 for Save One Life before he died in 2018.
Seistrup recalls bleeds that put him on the couch for weeks. He realized how lucky he was, though. If he had a serious case of hemophilia, he couldn’t support his wife of 22 years, Sarah, and their children, Bailey, 17, and Caiden, 10. Save One Life donates money for medicine and grants to hemophiliacs everywhere.
First inspired by Haarde in 2016, Seistrup rode the length of the more-than-659-mile Pacific Coast Highway in California. Seistrup raised $5,500 for the Hemophilia Federation of America. He has continued riding in Haarde’s memory.
“I felt like it was the right thing to do,” Seistrup said.
ON THE DIVIDE
Originally from Sycamore, Illinois, west of Chicago, Seistrup decided years ago that he wanted to move to Prescott because of its warmer climate and mountainous topography. Prescott offered the best of both worlds – he could train as a cyclist and work as a computer technician.
He had watched the 2010 documentary, “Ride the Divide,” which featured bikers racing the world’s longest mountain bike route, from the Rocky Mountains to the Mexico border.
In June, here Seistrup was in the thick of the race in a field of 146 riders. Among them were Josh Cotto, who had won the Ride the Divide and was making his fifth appearance, and Lael Wilcox, an Alaskan woman who set the route’s female record twice in one year.
Seistrup was nervous, but he had a plan, and he stuck to it. He started the race slowly to pace himself. As the race progressed, Seistrup picked up his pace, chipping away at a group of 22 riders ahead of him.
In a remote area of Montana, Seistrup reached the Top 10, and he caught Wilcox at a water stop. On the Montana-Idaho line, Seistrup made his move by capitalizing on his specialty – accelerating on hill climbs.
“It was a huge, pivotal point for me,” Seistrup said. “I thought I could have a chance if I do what I’m doing.”
Seistrup’s diet consisted of high-protein meals at night, after gaining quick energy from burritos, cookies, muffins and other high-carb snacks during the day. He bought food at grocery stores, mom-and-pop joints, sub shops and general stores, consuming 8,000 calories a day.
The race’s turning point came in Wyoming and northern Colorado, where Seistrup successfully navigated a freak snowstorm. He would carry his bike on his shoulder to hike through snow before reaching the Grand Tetons.
As he crossed the Wyoming-Colorado border, Seistrup trailed only two riders, the accomplished Josh Kato and Sofiane Sehili. Kato and Sehili got caught in the snow ahead. Meanwhile, Seistrup benefitted from a tailwind behind the storm to make headway.
By Day 8, Seistrup reached Brush Mountain Lodge, which caters to Divide racers, offering them lots of food, water, and even showers.
“I got a full-on reset on everything,” Seistrup said. “It was like a whole new race.”
Sehili, who at one point rode 600 miles mostly without sleep, became so disheartened by heavy snow that he quit the race.
Slowed by knee-deep snow at Steamboat Springs, where a record summer snowstorm occurred, Seistrup ate while he recalled training in a 24-inch snowstorm in Prescott in January.
Seistrup later crossed a creek in thigh-deep freezing cold water, knowing he had dry clothes in his bag. Unbeknownst to him, he had passed Kato.
END OF THE RACE
Catching sleep when he could, Seistrup would soon grab a 60- to 80-mile lead. At Brazzo’s Ridge, along the Colorado-New Mexico line, Seistrup rode around 8-foot packs of snow before reaching the New Mexico Desert.
Seistrup wet himself down at creek crossings to stay cool, stopping a few times to eat and rest. Battling through saddle sores, Seistrup pulled within 160 miles of the finish.
With 10 miles to go, Seistrup was relieved, knowing that family, friends and bike sponsors were waiting for him. He reflected on the journey, realizing what he had accomplished.
In 2018, Seistrup planned to do the Tour Divide until he fell in a March race in Sedona and suffered a bad bleed in his hip. He spent the next two weeks in bed.
His trials and tribulations last year had led him to one of the most gratifying moments of his life when he crossed the finish line at the New Mexico-Mexico border and hugged Sarah.
This month, Seistrup was back in Prescott, pondering his next move in cycling.
Eventually, he’ll feel the blood in his veins pushing him toward another challenge.
“It’s always my goal to help people,” Seistrup said. “That’s the biggest part of the motivation behind doing this stuff.”
Doug Cook is a reporter for The Daily Courier. Email him at email@example.com or call him at 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.