Most years only the very fastest cyclists and teams are concerned with the overall win – the first overall to the finish line – in the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay.
Participants instead tend to be more interested in how they place in their division.
Yet, with a sprint to the finish between the first two cyclists, posting the fastest times the race has seen in over a decade, the Fort Seward fairgrounds were abuzz with talk of the exciting finish at the 21st annual event on Saturday.
“It was a very fair sprint and the better guy won it,” said Cloverdale, B.C.’s Brett Boniface. “What a phenomenal rider he is.”
Whitehorse’s David Gonda outpaced Boniface by a wheel-length to give his two-person men’s team the overall title in the 238-kilometre race from Haines Junction, Yukon, to Haines, Alaska.
Gonda, who was partnered with Whitehorse’s Jonah Clark, finished in 5:57:21.
With a time of 5:57:22, Boniface won the solo men’s division for the second straight year.
“Brett was riding solo at the front of the race and I was able to catch him and we raced together for the last 90 or 70 kilometres,” said Gonda. “He was riding solo, so he had an amazing ride to be riding that strong after 200 kilometres.”
Both finishing times represent the fastest the race has seen since 2002 when a four-person men’s team from Whitehorse posted the course record of 5:55:55.
Gonda and Clark’s time is also the fastest two-person time in the race’s record books, which go back to 1999.
Boniface’s time is the solo record, far surpassing all other times since the division was introduced in 2001.
“I have to give it to David Gonda, who had one very fast second-half of the race,” said Boniface. “It was really close. He bridged an amazing gap there on top of the glacier – came across a three-minute gap – and when he came I was actually quite relieved to see him because it’s nice to have someone there.”
Clark was fourth to the halfway mark out of two-person riders. Gonda then made up the difference, completing the second half of the course in 3:02:09 with a blistering average speed 41.73 kilometres an hour.
Boniface finished the 238-kilometre distance with an average speed of 40.01 kilometres an hour.
Clark is no stranger to Haines-to-Haines wins. He won the two-person men’s division and the overall title last year with Whitehorse’s James Minifie, posting a time of 7:25:38. Clark also won the solo men’s division in 2005 and 2007.
Saturday was Gonda’s first time on a winning team.
“I’d like to do it solo one year when I have proper training,” said Gonda. “Most importantly, it’s just fun to come out. The weather makes the weekend, for sure.”
Conditions were vastly superior than in 2012. There was sun and warm temperatures instead of last year’s rain, snow and near-freezing temperatures.
In fact, a few grumbles could be heard about it being a little too hot. But no one dared complain about the almost ubiquitous tailwinds during the race.
About 90 minutes were shaved off times from last year across the board in all 11 divisions.
Boniface, who has raced professionally on three continents, won the division last year with a time of 7:40:37, 1:43:15 slower than this year.
“Last year were such epic conditions with the cold and the wet – you experienced everything,” said Boniface. “It couldn’t get any worse.
“Instead of six pairs of gloves this year, we brought seven and it managed to be 25 degrees with sunshine. It was a completely different race.”
Whitehorse’s Preston Blackie raced to second in the solo men’s division with a time of 6:14:12.
“I’m really happy (with second),” said Blackie. “I went for a ride with Brett – the guy who won – two nights ago. It was the first time I ever met him.
“We have some mutual friends and know about the guy and I know he rides quite a bit more than me.
“I didn’t even know he was here until the other night and I realized pretty quick he’s quite a bit stronger than me on the bike.”
Blackie, who finished with an average speed of 38.21 kilometres an hour, hadn’t entered the Kluane Chilkat in about 15 years. The former pro mountain biker has been on winning two-, four- and eight-person teams in the past.
“Last time I did this they didn’t offer the solo category, they just had the two-, four- and the eight-(person divisions),” said Blackie. “I’ve done all of those and I always wanted to do the solo.
“I started training last year and made this my goal.”
Whitehorse’s Elijah Buffalo placed third in solo men’s with a time of 6:14:28.
Whitehorse teams won six of the race’s 11 divisions while Alaskans won four.
See full coverage of the Kluane Chilkat relay in Wednesday’s Yukon News.
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org