One of the longest, toughest bicycle races in the world recently swept through the Mining City.
The Tour Divide race, a 2,745-mile marathon between Banff, Alberta, and the Mexican border at Antelope Wells, N.M., pits rider and bicycle in an unsupported single-stage race against distance and Mother Nature. The route follows a set course along the Continental Divide, which also goes through Butte.
Riders are expected to follow a simple but strict set of rules that keeps them as self-supported as possible.
The initial field of 48 racers has been pared down to around 20. The latest race casualty had nothing to do with the terrain, as one of the riders was struck head-on by a car near the Wyoming-Colorado border.
Divide racers are fond of saying that first you need to get through Montana, and then think about finishing the race. Of the riders who started the race, about 20 or so of those who dropped out called it quits in Montana.
The recent rains and cool weather made the course tougher than usual. Mud on the mountain trails slowed fast bikes to a slow roll. That became an even slower pace of pushed bicycles and then even slower when riders were forced to carry their bikes and gear through the mess.
Even with the natural barriers, the three lead racers are in a group that’s just hours off the record time. After starting on June 11 in Banff, the three will likely be near the Colorado-New Mexico border by the time readers get to this story.
Race fans may follow the riders’ progress at http://tourdivide.org/leaderboard.
It’s an epic race, and those who ride in it have to be well prepared mentally, physically and gear-wise. Most riders use hard-tail mountain bikes with a front suspension, with an array of gears to help tackle the various forms of terrain.
Some, however, opt for a single gear over the course of the race. Single-speed racers give up very low gears that are helpful on the thousands of feet of climbing, along with the higher gears that come in handy over many of the flatter portions of the trail.
One of the racers, Kent Peterson of Issaquah, Wash., completed the 2005 Divide race on a single speed, setting what was then the record for that category of racer.
This is Peterson’s first try since 2005, when the race started at the Montana-Canada border crossing at Roosville. The race has since changed to a starting line at Banff, adding piles of miles to the already challenging course.
Peterson, nicknamed the “Mountain Turtle,” added another twist to his race route, as he rode his single speed nearly 900 miles to the start line in Canada.
Peterson took a few minutes from the race Friday morning to briefly talk about the race.
“I’m having the time of my life,” Peterson said after a long night of pushing his Redline bike through mud and snow. “The trip has been terrific and it’s just beautiful here.”
Peterson has become known for his unflappably positive attitude, even in the face of some of the toughest racing conditions in the sport.
His motto is “festina lente,” which translates to “hasten slowly,” hence his Mountain Turtle nickname.
“I’ve overlapped with a few of the racers, but mostly I’m at the back of the pack,” Peterson said. “I’m OK with that. I have tracks to follow. The maps are really good, but occasionally directions are a little iffy, then I look and see tracks in the mud and it’s ‘hey, there they go.’ That helps.”
The Turtle claims the piece of equipment that slows him down the most is his camera, as he’s been in awe of the scenery. Still, he has to pay close attention to his bike over the many hard miles.
“I’m going through brake pads faster than I thought I would because of all the mud,” Peterson said. “But I’m feeling great. The bike’s working good and the body’s working good.”