Justinas Leveika is neck and neck with Mike Hall’s record dot, Meaghan Hackinen is on fire, the weather is tough, and racers are well into Montana. In our latest 2024 Tour Divide Debrief, we look into what’s happening in the race during days 3 and 4. Find it all here.

Salsa Cycles

Photos by Kathy Schoendoerfer from the Blackfoot Angler in Ovando, Montana

Montana is a state of many faces when it comes to the Tour Divide. It can have glorious weather and fast roads and be utterly miserable with mud that stops riders in their tracks. They say that if you can make it out of Montana, you can make it to Antelope Wells. But this year’s weather will do everything possible to keep riders from making it to the Idaho border. Still, as the winter-ish storm pushes through the area, the line of dots pushes on through the adversity.

After crossing the border from Canada and fueling up in Eureka, a town with the first Subway on the route, riders are faced with challenging climbs over Whitefish Divide and Red Mountain Pass before a long paved and relatively flat section from Whitefish, through Columbia Falls, and then into the Swan Valley, where the route turns to dirt and can show its teeth. The Swan Valley supposedly has one of the highest grizzly concentrations in the area, and endless punchy climbs characterize the dirt road through what feels like proper wilderness.

While many riders opt to stop at Holland Lake Lodge at the base of Richmond Pass, those at the front of the event generally bypass this off-route stop and head straight to the pass. Richmond Pass is one of lore, especially when snow-covered, though this year, it’s clear of snow, at least for the front runners, and has allowed relatively easy passage. It’s often overgrown, and the threat of encountering a grizzly feels very real as the road turns rougher and eventually deteriorates into a doubletrack and then singletrack over the top of the pass.

Tour Divide Debrief

The drop into Ovando is good fun if riders can ignore the fear of coming around a corner and running into a 600-pound grizzly bear blocking their path. Bear worries have increased in the area since Leah Davis Lokan was attacked and killed by a grizzly while camping in Ovando in July 2022.

In Ovando, riders are greeted by Kathy Schoendoerfer at the Blackfoot Angler, a welcome respite before climbing over Huckleberry Pass to Lincoln, the former home of the Unibomber—probably not a claim to fame the small town wants to have.

Three significant passes take riders into Helena, the first civilization of substance on the route. This is often a spot where riders pause to address issues with their bodies and bikes. Many riders will hit Helena sometime after four to six days of riding, just as their bodies have transitioned into Tour Divide form. It’s around this milage and time when issues either resolve themselves or turn into race-ending problems.

South of Helena, riders climb up to Lava Mountain, a rutted disaster of a road, before dropping down into Basin and toward Butte. A race fan posted photos of Lava Mountain looking snowy and wet on Monday morning.

It is just past Butte where we find our leader, Justinas Leveika, on Monday early afternoon, three days and change and 720 miles into the race with a significant lead not only on the rest of the field but also on the late Mike Hall’s record dot. A lot went into getting him there.

The Men’s Race

Unlike most of the other racers, Justinas Leveika doesn’t seem to be taking any extended sleep breaks. It appears he blew straight through the Whitefish and Columbia Falls area on day two, taking a small pause right before entering the Swan River Valley, presumably for a snack and a short nap before heading into the night.

Justinas Leveika, 2024 Tour Divide

Meanwhile, second through fourth rolled into Whitefish in close proximity, trailing Leveika by about two hours. The trio, made up of Ulrich Bartholmoes, Laurens Ten Dam, and Tomas Fabian, opted for another early stop in Columbia Falls just off the route. All three stopped around 7 p.m., and Bartholmoes, deciding that a nap at a hotel would do him good, was the last to resume movement, leaving at midnight. Ten Dam, also opting for a room, left just a hair earlier at 11:30, while Fabian only stuck around for an hour. Bartholmoes reported stomach issues for most of the day but was feeling optimistic for the following day.

Tomas Fabian

Ten Dam also reported some issues in the opening days, losing his gloves and replacing them with what appears to be a set of high-quality woolie gas station gloves, as well as his headlamp, which he has also replaced. He seems to be rolling again with his issues resolved.

Laurens Ten Dam

When it comes to average moving speed during the day, the top four men seem to be cruising at very similar speeds, once again giving credence to the idea that in most cases, this race isn’t won by pedaling faster than the others, but by being more efficient. Also by eating. The one who can eat the most will most likely prevail.

The weather held as the lead men traversed the Swan Valley and over Richmond Pass. All of the top four made it to Ovando in daylight hours and stopped at the Blackfoot Angler before continuing on to Lincoln for another snack break. Leveika held about a two-hour lead on Ten Dam here and an additional hour on Bartholmoes, who reported exceptional weather for the traverse over Richmond Pass and excitement at seeing Kathy, one of the most well-known and loved figures on the TD route.

Leveika rolled into Helena around 9:30 p.m. and continued while Ten Dam, who arrived just shy of midnight, headed into town for an extended break, allowing Bartholmoes to catch up. Bartholmoes also stopped for a four-hour break here, resuming movement at 5 a.m., while Ten Dam stayed put for an additional two hours, not leaving town until nearly 7 a.m.

Meanwhile, in front of them, Leveika had slept for three hours on the side of the road and was on the move before either of them, further extending his lead as he made his way toward Basin and Butte. Time will tell if this low-sleep strategy will pay off for the current race leader.

The weather is hitting the front-runners of the pack with snow at the higher elevations. Leveika most recently posted a story on his Instagram of holing up in the Basin post office early this morning with decidedly miserable weather outside. Bartholmoes also posted a story of a snowy and wet dirt road at kilometer 1,050, somewhere south of Helena.

Tour Divide Debrief

As of mid-afternoon on Monday, it seems like the middle of the pack is getting hit with the worst weather north of Helena, while the leading half-dozen are staying just south of the storm. Kathy Schoendoerfer has posted pictures on Facebook of racers warming up on a “Cold, wet and dreary start to Jun 17” from Ovando.

Women’s Race

As predicted, the duo of Meaghan Hackinen and Ana Jager are putting on a strong showing at the front of the field. Currently, Hackinen is maintaining her advantage over Jager by about 20 miles, not much the Tour Divide context. The two women are showing remarkably similar riding speeds and sleep schedules, and they are putting on a significant gap on the rest of the field.

Both opted to stay the second night in Whitefish, arriving within 45 minutes of each other. Hackinen slept on a bench for about five hours before getting an hour’s jump on Jager in the morning, rolling out into the dawn just a few minutes before 5 a.m. Both took advantage of the good weather to make short work of the pavement and grid roads of Columbia Falls, the Swan Valley, and Richmond Pass. By the evening, both women made it to Lincoln, and again, both stopped for the night. Hackinen arrived just after midnight, and Jager trailed her for less than two hours.

Meaghan Hackinen, 2024 TOur Divide

Behind the leading two, Marie-Soleil Blais continues to take longer sleeps and is showing a slower average speed while moving.

But the race is long, and racers are only in Montana. For everyone out there, a lot can go wrong, and a lot can go right, and things are still wide open.

It’s worth noting that Hackinen is sixth overall, and Jager is tenth. It’s difficult to determine where the two women are in relation to the Lael Wilcox record dot due to tracking issues that have the record flag paused for an extended period of time, but they’re going fast, and clearly, they’re pushing each other to be their very best.

Singlespeed Race

A quick update on the singlespeed race. Zachary Del Greco has maintained a narrow lead over Jake Colantonio, but Jake has had significantly more rest, and has been going at a faster moving average. Only time will tell if his strategy of resting more will pay off.

2024 TOur Divide Singlespeed
TrackerCheck out the 2024 Tour Divide Tracker page to follow along on the live tracking map, find our Rigs of the Tour Divide roundups, and stay tuned in for more event coverage. Find it here.



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