Three solo cyclists arrived at the Canada-U.S. border together, had their passports inspected by guards and headed out to complete the final two legs of the race.
A headwind was starting to pick up and the three worked together to push through into the final kilometres before the finish.
Then it was no longer a team effort. It was a free-for-all, and only one would claim victory.
Whitehorse’s Joel Macht won a sprint to the finish to place first overall at the 23rd annual Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay on Saturday.
“It was good to have these guys to ride with – it made all the difference,” said Macht.
“I feel surprisingly good,” he added. “I don’t think it could have gone any better. I felt good the whole way, had great support. These guys were going the right speed for me.”
Macht completed the 238-kilometre race from Haines Junction to Haines, Alaska, in seven hours, five minutes and eight seconds to claim the top spot in the solo men’s division and the coveted overall title.
Whitehorse’s David Gonda crossed the line just behind Macht at 7:05:17, and just ahead of Fairbanks’ Tyson Flaharty in third at 7:05:22.
“I tried to take that bottom corner with a lot of speed and carry it up the hill but I just didn’t have the power left in the legs and Joel came around,” said Gonda. “So congrats to him because he rode a smart race.”
Saturday was Macht’s 10th Kluane Chilkat and his first time winning a division. It was also his second attempt at the solo division. Last time he tried it solo, he didn’t just blow up on Leg 7, he “totally exploded.”
“It takes time to get it right – it took 10 years,” said Macht, a two-time Whitehorse Triathlon winner. “The last time I did this I had a horrendous experience. I hit the wall hard because I didn’t eat enough. But today I made sure I ate enough.
“This is my crowning athletic achievement, it’s all downhill from here,” added the 37-year-old. “As a father of four, this is the pinnacle.”
Gonda was trying the solo for his first time. The 27-year-old won the overall title on a two-man team with Jonah Clark in 2013.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Gonda. “We kept the pace steady, the group got whittled down and there was just three of us coming across the border.”
Flaharty did the race as a solo in more ways than one. He rode the full distance without a support crew to hand him snacks and water bottles. He made good use of the two solo support checkpoints at which he could fill up on food and fluids.
“It was fun. It was a good, hard race,” said Flaharty. “I wasn’t sure how my nutrition was going to work out because I didn’t have anybody to hand up to me. So I planned on the two drop-spots and was able to make those work pretty well.”
Macht wasn’t the only division winner from Whitehorse on Saturday – far from it.
Whitehorse cyclists won 10 out of the race’s 11 divisions (not counting two recreational classes, which were also topped by Whitehorse teams.)
It marks the most divisions won by Whitehorse cyclists in at least a decade – perhaps ever. (Online race records are a little patchy.)
Whitehorse cyclists also pocketed 26 of 33 podium spots.
The one division that got away was in the solo women’s division, which saw a three-peat this year.
Haines, Alaska’s Jennifer Walsh made it three in a row, winning it a third straight year with a time of 8:22:24. Two cyclists from Gibsons, B.C. placed second and third while the top Yukoner finisher in the division was Whitehorse’s Erica Van Vlack in fifth at 9:40:27.
A home-course advantage really helps out after the summit, said Walsh.
“That makes all the difference in the world,” said Walsh, 36, who set the solo women’s record of 6:58:11 in 2013. “I ride that stretch of highway all the time … I’ve gotten home from the border in every condition. So you just know you can make it.
“I’m happy it’s done and I’m glad I did it.”
Whitehorse’s Aaron Foos and Craig Machtans had lonely rides in the race. Despite getting dropped by packs, the two managed to pull off a first place finish in the two-person men’s division at 7:27:36.
“I came unhitched from the leaders at the top of Million Dollar Falls … Then I was stuck by myself in no-man’s-land,” said Foos. “I rode from Million Dollar Falls all the way by myself to the end of the first half.
“Then Craig rode all the way from Three Guardsmen (on Leg 6) – 90 kilometres – by himself. So we had a long, lonely ride.”
Whitehorse brothers Stephen and Marcus Waterreus rode to second at 7:41:33, about 12 minutes ahead of Whitehorse’s Jody Schick and Chris Milner in third.
Whitehorse’s Linda Hamilton and Catherine Fussell took top honours in the two-person women’s division with a time of 8:40:53.
Whitehorse’s Annah Hanthorn and Adrienne Hynes (8:44:04) came second and Whitehorse’s Sue Johnson and Mandy McClung (8:52:42) third.
Whitehorse partners Simon Lapointe and Aisha Montgomery notched a win in two-person mixed. It was the first time the two teamed up to race the event, crossing the finish at 7:41:35.
“Simon set me up pretty well. He worked pretty hard the first half, so I just had to keep the pace that he – well, I didn’t even keep the pace he set – at least keep some semblance of the pace he set,” said Montgomery.
“I think he wore out some of the solo guys. I attached myself to one solo guy and basically wouldn’t let him out of my sight … I was starting to lose my solo guy and then a pack caught up to us and it was just perfect.”
Montgomery was on the winning four-person women’s team in 2012 and 2013, but it was the first division win for Lapointe, who referred to his wife as his “secret weapon.”
Whitehorse’s Jillian Chown and John Berryman (7:43:33) took second ahead of Juneau’s Michael Schuler and Jennifer Watson (7:58:41).
Lapointe and Montgomery took the mixed-two division title, but technically they weren’t the first to the finish line.
Whitehorse’s Sean McCarron and wife Michelle Rigoni came in at 7:40:38, but were put into a recreation division since McCarron did five legs and Rigoni three.
“I flatted at the bottom of Million Dollar Falls and it took me a while to change that tire … I forgot my tire irons,” said McCarron. “So I’m trying to do it with my hands and finally a car pulled over and helped me out. Another rider did too, which was great.
“But it was great: I had people to ride with the whole afternoon.”
Four Whitehorse riders nailed it with their team name: Young, Skinny And Ahead Of You.
Marcus Deuling, Hudson Lucier, Ruth Hanthorn, Caelan McLean took first in the four-person mixed division with a time of 7:53:26.
The four are slim, under 19, and were indeed ahead of everyone else in their division.
“We didn’t come out thinking we were going to win,” said Lucier. “When we first signed up it was kind of for fun, but it was nice.”
A team from Haines took second and an Anchorage team third.
It was third time’s the charm for Doug Terry, Robert McConnell, Peter Sandiford and Dan Reimer.
In their third year racing together, the Whitehorse team won the four-person men’s division for their first time at 7:21:07.
“Rob did a great job catching up with the ones and twos who left 20 minutes earlier (at the start), so he did a great job giving Pete and me people to work with,” said Reimer. “If you have a group to work with, you go twice as fast.
“So we were in a good position and beside one flat tire, it all worked out nicely. It’s good to be in Haines!”
Not only did McConnell ride hard on his four-man team, he then rode on the seventh place two-person mixed team.
“Rob did (Legs) 3, 4, and he’s doing the second half on another team. So he’s doing a total of six legs!” said Reimer.
Whitehorse teams also took second and third. Michael Abbott’s team rode in at 7:26:56 for second and David Greer’s at 7:27:13 for third.
Whitehorse monopolized the podium in the four-person women’s division.
Julie McVicar, Kendra Murray, Sarah Murray and Vesta Mather took first at 8:24:00, beating Samantha Salter’s team in second at 8:24:33 and Deb Higgins’ in third at 8:41:49.
Whitehorse’s Elizabeth Reid, Don Roberts, Brad Avery, Joy Vall, Kathleen Avery and Rob Rees teamed up to win the eight-person mixed division.
Yvonne Kinsey, Genevieve O’Neill, Brenda Morisson, Melanie Tait, Donna Jones, Deborah Kitchen, Johanne Faulkner and Aline Goncalves won the eight-person women’s division.
Kane Dawe, Mitchell Heynen, Ross Keith, Will Kennedy, Tynan Thurmer, Jeff Gartshore, Jake Schneider and Ryan Mclaren topped the eight-person men’s division.
The Kluane Chilkat, which was put on with the help of over 250 volunteers and included 1,227 cyclists, had a record 92 solo cyclists register for the race.
“There were a number of guys missing who you’d like to see here, like (last year’s solo winner) Jonah (Clark), Ian Parker, Preston Blackie. So it’s too bad those guys weren’t out,” said Macht. “But you can only race the people who are here.”
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