Nathan Chown biked 238.3 kilometres in 6:19:27 — 18 minutes faster than the next soloist in the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay.
But his victory was thrown into doubt in less time than it took him to run the race.
And, by 9 a.m. Sunday morning, Chown, of St. Catharines, Ontario, had been stripped of his win for motorpacing —the illicit practice of following close enough behind a vehicle that its air currents help pull the rider along.
“He motorpaced back onto the field, so the officials are going to take him out,” said Fred Harbison, of the Fairbanks, Alaska, team Spawned Out, which took first place in the men’s four-person event.
“We saw it. I wrote up an incident report and the guy in the truck saw it.
“Actually the guys in the group had no idea how he got back on it after they dropped him at the border. (They said:) ‘How’d he get back on?’
“It’s too bad because he was going to win the solo-person (division) anyway; he was way ahead of everyone,” added Harbison.
After the race, Chown spoke about losing the lead pack of riders.
“At the border there was a bit of confusion. The guys sort of took off on me,” said Chown before learning of his disqualification.
“I thought we were supposed to wait a minute to regroup. It was kind of weird.”
“As far as I know it’s fairly rare,” said Mike Gladish, one of the two race organizers, on the topic of Chown’s disqualification.
“Maybe once in a couple years someone is disqualified. There’s usually some penalties given; time penalties for rudeness or minor infractions of the rules. But no, there’s only been a few disqualifications over the years.”
In fact, an eight-person men’s team, Soft and Supple, was given a 15-minute penalty for rudeness towards a race official, thereby turning their second-place finish into a third-place finish.
“There was another solo guy who finished in front of me,” said Jeff Oatley, who finished first in the solo men’s division with a time of 6:37:01, speaking of Chown.
“He was way in front of me. (He’s) a really strong guy … He was able to stay with the group, but I wasn’t; he opened a pretty good gap on me there. So it’s kind of odd to win because I don’t really feel like I won, I know he was in front of me.”
However, most competitors paid little attention to the controversy and preferred to relax after the race and enjoy the company of their teams and competitors.
For them, the biggest problems were a few flat tires, a broken chain and cold weather, especially on stages seven and eight, which saw wind, rain and frigid temperatures.
When it was over, the last-place team took twice as long to finish the race as the first place team.
Nevertheless, judging from the jubilant festivities after the race, everyone was happy to have competed in the 16th annual running of the race.
Within the eight-stage race, which began Saturday morning in Haines Junction and went on throughout the afternoon (and evening for some) in Haines, Alaska, were solo competitors, teams of eight, and everything in between.
To complicate things further, each category is split into men’s, women’s and mixed teams.
“It’s a good team, a fun bunch of ladies,” said Monica Melnychuk, captain of the Whitehorse team Sweaty Denim, which finished first in the four-person women’s division with a time of 7:51:26.
“I found it pretty windy and I didn’t have anyone to ride with, so it wasn’t my favorite legs (of the race) — I had never done legs five and six until this year … Luckily, the last few rides I did were into headwinds, so I accidentally trained for it.”
“This is the first time we’ve raced together as a team,” said Whitehorse resident, Brad Barton, of his team Double Double to GO that finished fourth in the four-person men’s event with a time of 6:52:06.
“Four of us took off there for a while, then there was three of us, so there was myself and two guys from Fairbanks,” said Barton, describing his leg of the race.
“And when we hit one of the hills coming out of Million Dollar Falls three of us split up and the two Fairbanks guys took off. It was a grind the rest of the way.”
Contrary to reason, eight-person teams tended to have longer times because they are often made up of recreational cyclists.
“The distance is just not long enough for people who race a lot,” explained Manx Quayle, a member of Spawned Out.
“Thirty-six miles and up is what they usually race.”