The Butte 100 mountain bike race began with about 40 local racers headed out for little more than a day in the saddle. But even that number is debatable between those in Triple Ring Productions (TRP), the organizing body of the Butte 100 endurance mountain bike race. Back then, record keeping ranked just below figuring out who's buying the post-race beer. Fast forward five short years and the race has evolved from its Montana-esque, grassroots approach into one of the nation's newest elite endurance mountain bike races.
This past July, a record 228 racers came from 14 states and Canada to test their endurance at the fifth annual event. The routes, a 50- and 100-mile figure eight course, rambled over frontage roads, technical pitches, sandy doubletracks, and endless miles of smooth Continental Divide Trail singletrack. The draw is seeing over 16,000 feet of climbing recorded on the racer's GPS; 9,000 feet for the 50-milers. The Butte 100 is one of the most difficult races in the US. At least that's what mountain biking legend Tinker Juarez says.
In July, Juarez was back for a second year of competing in his favorite race and posted a course record (nine hours and 36 minutes) on his way to winning the 100-mile open class. He was made aware of the race in 2009 through a friend, while racing in Costa Rica. He did some research, called then race director Bob Waggoner, and committed. Juarez saw an opportunity - an opportunity for a race, a town, and a gauge of his own conditioning in the critical weeks leading up to Leadville.
Word of Juarez's 2010 registration in this little, down-home race somewhere on Montana's Continental Divide swept through the bike community. Overnight, the 2010 Butte 100 had literally tripled in size.
2010 was a pivotal year for the four who make up TRP: Gina Evans, Guy Vesco, Bob and Gwen Waggoner. It put the race on the map and realized a long-held vision of bringing endurance mountain bike racing to Montana.
The newfound popularity of the event exposed some weaknesses for those who were used to putting on a race for a handful of locals: a poorly marked turn sent racers off course; a late afternoon squall ripped canopies and poles into one congealed mess; handwritten results melted under the rain; and the post-race food were sorely underestimated. Weeks after the event, results were finally posted - skewed at best. The opportunity to showcase itself to the mountain biking world was a failure and the Butte 100's future was uncertain.
Not long after the race, an employee at The Outdoorsman bike shop was visiting with two of the organizers about the race. A guidebook author and graduate student at Montana Tech saw an opportunity to apply his technical communication thesis to the race and offered his time. The crew agreed to bring him onboard. It turned out to be just what they were looking for. The addition of Jon Wick and his race bible thesis injected life into the veins of the depleted TRP.
In a time of introspection, the TRP members took a long look at what needed to be done to improve the race. A unanimous consensus was reached: if the Butte 100 was going to attract world-class athletes, it needed to be a world-class race. Period. The group recommitted themselves to the vision.
Others such as Ryan Munsen and Phil Dean came onboard to help with volunteer coordination and re-doing the website. A timing company was brought for near instantaneous results.
One short year after the wheels fell off, the 2011 Butte 100 closed registration with 228 racers and over 60 volunteers - both were race records.
That confidence spilled over to race day. The riders hammered under a typical summertime bluebird day. The elite racers relentlessly pressed Juarez throughout the day. Reports surfaced that John Curry surpassed Juarez for nearly 11 miles until cramping ensued. On the notorious climb out of the Basin Creek aid station, Juarez regained the lead and danced along the CDT never looking back. He crossed the finish line 12 minutes ahead of Curry and almost an hour before the next chaser, Bill Martin. An epic race, on all fronts, was happening that day.
Trail scouting is already underway for possible improvements for the next edition on August 4, 2012.
Growing pains are a necessary evil for every race, but the flawless 2011 race proved the Butte 100 has moved beyond infancy and is ready to line up next to the other established 100-milers.