Storm clouds rolled over Homestake Pass Saturday afternoon and let loose a cooling burst of rain for mountain bikers still out riding the Butte 100 course.
Race director Gina Evans had just finished saying how the temperature could stand to drop 15 degrees. The heat only makes it that much tougher out there, she said.
A record 226 racers came from 14 states and Canada to test their endurance at the fifth annual event, with 50- and 100-mile routes looping through the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
Of those, 38 riders challenged the full 100 miles. Sunshine had crept back into the sky by the time renowned cyclist Tinker Juarez, 50, finished in first place with an unofficial time of nine hours,
Juarez, who placed third in the race last year, said the Butte 100 is one of the most difficult 100-mile rides in the land.
“It’s a great feeling when you accomplish something like this, and I feel very lucky I can still do it at my age,” Juarez said.
Evans is pleased to see the Butte 100 grow to the point where it is attracting riders the caliber of Juarez, she said.
Turnout has increased every year since the race began with 86 riders leaving from Montana Tech. Riders came this year from as far as New Hampshire.
“This is going to keep spreading,” Evans said. “It’s a party on two wheels.”
Communications director Jon Wick said they recommitted to improving the race this year, revamping their website and bringing in Montana Timing from Billings to record quicker results.
Wick is most excited to showcase the beauty of Montana through the race, he said.
“We’re so lucky to live where we live,” he said.
Local biker John Coulthard, 53, rode the 50-mile race for the first time and said he thought it was well-run with more than enough support on the course.
The terrain from Burton Park to Pipestone is “relentless,” Coulthard said.
“It was a real good climb,” he said. “By the time I hit Pipestone, I was really cramping in my quadriceps.”
The Butte 100 will have meetings over the next year to figure out possible improvements they can make for the 2012 race, Wick said.
People already love to mountain bike, Wick said, and endurance mountain biking is the next big challenge. So far, the Butte 100 is keeping with the trend.
“Our turnout shows what we’re doing here is good,” he said. “We’re far ahead of the game.”