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Cyclists go to new lengths in Kluane Chilkat relay

Of the 11 divisions in Saturday's 17th annual Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay, only four were won by Yukoners. However, winning meant very little to the cyclists, as could be seen from the turnout at the awards ceremony the next morning -- almost no one showed up.

Of the 11 divisions in Saturday’s 17th annual Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay, only four were won by Yukoners.

However, winning meant very little to the cyclists, as could be seen from the turnout at the awards ceremony the next morning—almost no one showed up.

Despite the ambivalence towards the awards ceremony, the results of the race from Haines Junction to Haines, Alaska, showed top cyclists are getting ambitious and are pushing themselves to greater lengths—literally.

For most of the race the field was led by two small groups of riders, among them Eric Breitenberger and Fred Harbison from Fairbanks. The two-person team had the fastest time of the day, cruising in six hours, 49 minutes and 26 seconds after starting.

In last year’s race, the two won the four-person event, but decided to enter the two-person after seeing last year’s fastest time produced by a two-person team.

“We’re not cutting it in half next year, I’m telling you right now,” said Harbison, ruling out a run in the solo men’s division next year. “Two is good—two is fun.

“(Breitenberger) did the hilly part, I did the downhill and the flats. He opened up a two-minute lead in the first half and then we just maintained it for the second half.”

“For me the hardest part was the last big climb on leg four,” said Breitenberger. “There’s a climb right before it that’s not too steep but it gets you a little tired, and then there’s a short steep descent. Then you hit the steepest, longest climb on the whole course. I almost got dropped there—I did get gapped a couple of times, but I managed to close it and get back on. For me that was the hardest part because I was worried about getting dropped for good.

“I’m not that great at climbing.”

It was a similar story for the fastest solo rider, John Bursell from Juneau, crossing the finish line with a time of 6:56:41 seconds, just one second ahead of last year’s winner, Jeff Oatley from Fairbanks.

Last year, Bursell won the two-person event, but decided to push himself and go it alone this year.

“A lot of us might start riding on a four-man team and then do a two-man team and then think, ‘Well, one of these days I’ll do the whole thing,” said Bursell. “That’s what happened this year—a bunch of us just decided to do that.

“It’s a good ride, well supported—it’s the farthest I’ve ever ridden.”

Looking at the numbers across the board, it would seem many decided to move up to a smaller-team division, with the decreased numbers in the eight-person teams and a record amount participating in the solo division, with about 47 solo riders, up from about 30 last year.

“It’s a big jump,” said Gladish. “It’s more of an ultimate-type challenge, so if you’ve done the race a few times and you’re an avid cyclist, it seems like the logical thing to push yourself to try it.”

Overall numbers were down, with about 1,100 riders, compared to last year’s 1,253.

“The eight (-person teams) are recreational, so some years they don’t go in it,” said Gladish. “One year there might be 90 (eight-person) teams and the next year there’s 100. That’s a difference of 80 people.”

Whitehorse’s top cyclist in the solo men’s event was two-time solo winner Jonah Clark, crossing the finish line in fifth place with a time of 7:44:43.

“The middle section I was completely bonked and was cramping,” said Clark. “For a while I didn’t think I’d finish but I kept cranking, eating food, drinking water and, eventually, it came around.

“I wasn’t happy with how I felt the whole race. That was the worst cramping.”

The previous weekend, Breitenberger and Harbison raced in the Tour of Fairbanks taking 13th and ninth overall. As organizers of the Fairbanks event, the two have a whole new respect for the effort it takes to put on the Kluane Chilkat relay.

“(The Tour of Fairbanks) has nowhere near the amount of organization this race has,” said Harbison. “This is an unbelievable job organizing. All the kids out there with the signs telling us where to go, the police—everyone.

“It’s just a phenomenal amount of work.”

See results at

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