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On course: Longtime Butte 100 organizers show staying power

On course: Longtime Butte 100 organizers show staying power

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As the Butte 100 Mountain Bike Race goes, so go the original organizers. 

Like the endurance racers who tackle a 100-mile course, they have been in it for the long haul.

Race director Gina Evans, Bob Waggoner, and Gwen Waggoner were among the core volunteers who started the race in 2007. They have seen the genesis of the race, now considered the toughest race in the country.

The 2015 Butte 100 starts Saturday with the 6 a.m. elite riders taking off in the signature 100-mile race, followed by the 8 a.m. 50-mile start and the 11 a.m. 25-mile start. The start and finish are located at Homestake Pass (take the Homestake exit off Interstate 90).

While Evans has led the helm all nine years, the show most likely would not go on without Evans and the Waggoners, who were passionate about starting a premiere race in Butte that rivals the Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado, which runs on Aug. 15.

“Each year, beginning shortly after each race, I start talking with sponsors,” said Evans, “taking care of permits, mobilizing safety teams, and sending lead agencies safety letters along with any other logistics that pop up along the way.”

After Thursday night’s storm and torrential downpour, organizers had to leap into high gear clearing fallen trees off the race course.

Local volunteers, many of them dedicated riders, cleared fallen trees on the north side of the course on the Continental Divide Trail. Strong wind gusts felled some trees on the south side of the course that are immobile, Evans said.

“We can control so many things, but when Mother Nature happens, we can’t. Mother Nature had fun.”

Riders will have to adjust to the fallen obstacles.

“Just get off your bike and climb it, then get around safely,” she said. 

Earlier in the summer, to prep the course, AmeriCorps volunteers and local racers cleared at least 150 trees to clean the course, too.

The hard rain also helped tamp down the trail dirt, which Butte first-time Butte 100-miler Todd Hunkler said improves the ride.

“The weather will be really good for riding because the first 50 miles are really sandy,” said Hunkler. “The rain pats it down and makes the times faster.”

Trail conditions could make going a bit easier for the 93 riders entered in the inaugural 25-mile race, the event’s shortest distance.

Hunkler, for one, likes the egalitarian aspect of the short race.

“It gives an opportunity for people to get out and do the race,” he said. “It’s a push to get people biking. It’s not just an elite race.”

As race-watchers cheer on riders from various vantage points, the Red Mountain Band plays at 3 p.m. and the awards ceremony starts at 6:30 p.m. at Homestake Pass headquarters — well after all the races have finished.

Evans credited communications manager Jon Wick and Neon Army volunteer coordinator Todd Hoar of Butte with making sure the race goes on without a hitch. Wick will keep the public updated on Facebook and Twitter.

“Jon does phenomenal work with communicating to the world what is going on,” she said, adding that Hoar eventually took over as volunteer chairman. All organizers scramble up to the last moment to ensure the Butte 100 reputation stays strong.

“Not many jump into a job like that,” Evans added.

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Education Reporter who also covers features at The Montana Standard, I am a Cascade-Ulm-Great Falls native. Originally a sports writer, I wrote for the Missoulian and the Great Falls Tribune. I freelanced for The Seattle Times and other NW publications.

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