HOMESTAKE PASS – Ben Parsons played a big part in the outcome at the Butte 100 on Saturday despite his not being there to participate.
The outdoor enthusiast from Kalispell died in an avalanche while skiing in January, leaving some of Saturday’s participants to carry his spirit through the 100-mile race.
Whitefish’s Joel Shehan carried Parsons’ name on his bicycle and thought of his friend when times got tough on the route.
“He always had a smile on his face and was always excited to be riding a bike,” Shehan said. “And that’s contagious.
“To go out and ride 100 miles and suffer through that, you think, ‘Ben would be smiling right now. I should think about having fun instead of how hard this is right now.’ One-hundred miles is always hard but I had my great friend Ben Parson’s name on my bike to look down at and I got inspiration from him when things got hard.”
That inspiration drove Shehan to a second-place finish.
Shehan’s only other trip through the Butte 100 was in 2010. It was him, Matt Butterfield and Parsons who decided to give the Butte 100 a shot this year. When Parsons was killed, Shehan felt that it was only fitting to go through with the promise.
“Obviously, we had to carry through with it,” Shehan said.
Loren Mason-Gere, the men’s champion in the 100-miler, also shared thoughts of Parsons shortly after crossing the finish line.
“Winning was hard because you had to assume that Ben would have won if he was here,” Mason-Gere said. “So this was for him.”
Mason-Gere crossed the finish line in 10:07:34, besting Shehan by about eight minutes.
Jeff Shehan, Butterfield and Philip Higuera rounded out the top five.
Ivy Pedersen, of Bozeman, was the top female finisher in the 100-mile event with a clocking of 12:45:48.
Tinker Juarez was the probable favorite as riders lined up for the 6 a.m. start, but his chances of winning didn’t last long.
Markers were placed throughout the various trails and were intended to keep the riders on the right course. One marker, however, supposedly had been moved. That led to Juarez taking a wrong turn.
There was a buzz at the event’s staging area when word got out that Juarez had reached the first (of 10) checkpoints in just over 30 minutes. He never found the next checkpoint.
If it weren’t already anybody’s race to begin with, that incident made sure it was.
Mason-Gere, who placed sixth and fourth in previous Butte 100s, didn’t compete last year because of a string of injuries. He devised a simple strategy to get the job done this time.
“I really ride by feel,” he explained. “I try not to go overboard and kind of keep a lid on it. I just kind of feel it out. (Saturday) it felt like the legs were going to hang in there so I went for it.
“I couldn’t tell you that I was confident that the legs were going to hang in there the whole time, that’s for sure. It’s such a hard race.”
It was about midway through the race that Mason-Gere, another representative of Whitefish, started to feel a little more comfortable but did his best to prevent it from turning into overconfidence.
“The end of the first lap, when some of the other guys were sort of falling off, I was still feeling really good,” he recalled. “I might have been feeling a little too confident. And then I felt confident about 100 yards from the finish. I looked over my shoulder and thought, ‘OK, I guess it’s going to happen.’
“It feels really good. I’ve never gotten an overall win before so to do it here feels really incredible.”
Mason-Gere wasn’t the only one to use previous finishes as motivation.
Amber Steed was the first female to cross the finish line in the 50-mile race. It was her first time winning.
“A couple of years ago I got third, and the second year I got second so this is a good progression,” Steed said with a laugh. “I was hoping this would be the next step toward the podium.
“It was motivation and building your endurance and skill set to see where I could take it.”
Steed trained with boyfriend, Mark Christiansen, which seemed to make a big difference for both. Christiansen knocked 50 minutes off of his previous best time in the 50 miles, and Steed got the top step on the podium.
Rachel Fisherkeller, who recently moved to Whitefish from Colorado, was second to Steed in the 50. It was her first time at the Butte 100.
“I’ve raced a fair amount but this was by far the hardest 50 I’ve ever done,” Fisherkeller said. “But it was fun. I didn’t know what to expect coming in. I just wanted to finish and have a good attitude and finish feeling good.”
Jesse Myers, who recently moved to Butte, made up for his second-place finish from last year to lead all male riders to Saturday’s 50-mile finish line.
Not bad for someone who wasn’t even sure he’d been in the race a few days ago.
“I had a really hard crash on Tuesday got road rash all over my arm and (back) so I wasn’t sure I was even going to do the race,” he said after getting a congratulatory hug from his 5-year-old son Samson. “I woke up (Friday) and felt pretty good, and woke up (Saturday) and decided I’d do it. I felt pretty good the whole race.”
Myers overcame some leg cramps and a broken bicycle seat (for the final 10 miles) to finish the job.
“I didn’t want to stop because I knew I had the lead so I just went for it and everything worked out,” he said.
Ian Curtis and Missoula's Carly Holman won the men's and women's divisions of the Sorini 25.