Unrelenting headwinds didn’t keep Whitehorse cyclists from winning the majority of divisions in the 22nd annual Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay on Saturday.
Whitehorse teams topped seven of the race’s 11 divisions, including all four men’s divisions, in the 240-kilometre race from Haines Junction, Yukon, to Haines, Alaska. They also claimed 24 of 33 podium spots, not counting the coveted overall positions.
Whitehorse’s Jonah Clark was the day’s big winner. The 37-year-old outpaced 45 other solo men to place first in the division with a time of 7:31:56.
He also out-pedaled a pair of riders from two-man teams on the final straightaway to finish first overall out of a record 332 registered teams.
“How was it? It was really hard,” said Clark. “The first two legs were so windy and it was cold. The next bit wasn’t too bad actually, but it was pretty much a wind story. If you look at our finish time … it means it was pretty windy.”
Saturday’s win was Clark’s third for solo men and his fifth time going it alone in the “Haines-to-Haines” event.
Clark was on a two-person men’s team that finished the race first overall last year with a time of 5:57:21, less than two minutes from the course record. Last year’s wind situation was the opposite, with tailwinds helping out as numerous division records were set.
“My fastest and slowest finish times have a two-hour difference and it pretty much boils down to wind,” said Clark, a former Yukon mountain bike champ and Tour de Whitehorse winner.
“My goal this year was to manage my food and water properly because the other four times I’ve done it, even when I did win, I had a pretty big meltdown midway through the race where I had to slow right down and drink lots and eat lots. This year I tried to make sure that never happened and it didn’t, so I was pretty excited about that.”
Whitehorse riders occupied the next two spots in solo men with Ian Parker and Lee Hawkings crossing the line second and third for the division.
Parker, who finished in 7:48:32, was with the lead group until the summit before Haines.
“I was there with three bigger guys, I was in my biggest gear spinning at 120 RPM, and I could not stay on their wheels,” said Parker. “The guys just rode away from me.
“That is one of the worst feelings in cycling, to watch three guys ride away from you into a headwind.”
Parker placed second for solo men in 2011 and won the inaugural Tour de Skagway last month.
Haines, Alaska’s Jennifer Walsh made it two in a row, defending her solo women title from last year. Walsh, who set the solo women’s record of 6:58:11 last year, came in at 8:53:01 this year.
Whitehorse’s Erika Joubert placed second at 10:22:42 and fellow Whitehorse rider Susan Antpoehler placed fourth at 10:23:13.
Pushing Clark right till the end were cyclists Thane Phillips and Aaron Foos, both on two-person men’s teams from Whitehorse.
Phillips crossed the finish at 7:32:00 – just four seconds behind Clark – to place second overall and win the two-person men’s division with Derek Crowe.
Saturday was Phillips and Crowe’s third year in a row of racing together, but their first time winning.
“We all came in together – Jonah, myself and Aaron came in together to the last steep uphill all together, and Jonah was just stronger than me and pulled it over the top,” said Phillips. “I kept trying to catch up, but it did not happen.”
Foos and race partner Stephen Ball, who won the solo men’s division in 2011, placed third overall and second in the two-man division at 7:32:21. A team from Juneau claimed third.
Headwinds don’t bother Crowe much. They evened the playing field, he said.
“It was pretty adverse at the start for me,” said Crowe. “That kind of works to my advantage. I kind of like it when there’s worse weather or worse wind because it takes the top speed off some of these fast guys, which I have a hard time holding (otherwise). I’m pretty hardy.”
A rider on the winning two-person mixed team had more than just a pain in his legs during the race.
Jean-Paul Molgat, who won the division with wife Laura Salmon, was involved in a three-bike crash on Leg 2. He had red scrapes on his face as he welcomed Salmon at the finish line.
“There were three of us and two of us were able to keep riding, but Jerome McIntyre wasn’t able to,” said Molgat. “He might have broken his finger. I feel really bad for him.
“A friend of mine was there and he had an extra wheel and some tools and he fixed my bike up and I, maybe foolishly, kept going. It’s bitter-sweet because I know Jerome would have done really well.”
The Whitehorse couple finished the race in 8:40:06 for their first two-person win.
“It’s been a few years, but we did it two or three times back when the girls were small,” said Salmon, referring to their daughters. “I think we even had one bike at one point. We shared and had to adjust the seat at the halfway mark.”
“We always miss the podium by one or two,” added Molgat.
Whitehorse’s Mathieu Chenard and Bernadette Roy took second at 8:53:26, ahead of a Juneau team.
Whitehorse teams were particularly dominant in the four-person divisions that increased from 102 teams last year to 129 on Saturday.
Not only did Whitehorse teams take the podium spots in all three divisions, they also occupied nine of the top 10 spots in four-person men’s, 11 of the top 12 in four-person women’s and 15 of the top 17 in the four-person mixed.
The Whitehorse team of Ray Sabo, Knute Johnsgaard, Sam Lindsay and Colin Abbott took first in four-person men’s with a time of 7:45:32.
Sabo, Lindsey and Johnsgaard were on the winning four-person men’s team last year as well.
“Yeah, it was windy,” said Johnsgaard. “The last three times I’ve done Legs 7 and 8 and it seems those legs are always windy.
“Our goal was to win the whole thing but it’s kind of hard when we start separately from the two- and one-man teams. There’s usually a big pack to ride with and this time, by Colin’s leg, we were riding by ourselves.”
Tamara Goeppel, April Mazzuca, Monika Melnychuk and Sierra van der Meer teamed up to win the four-person women’s division with a time of 8:30:09.
They placed fifth overall out of all four-person teams.
“We’ve ridden with each other on different teams but never as a four(-person) team,” said van der Meer. “We’ve been doing two-person teams for a number of years and we’ve talked about putting in a four-person girls team. Then (Whitehorse bike shop) Icycle Sport told us they would sponsor us, and we thought it sounded good because we got free gear.”
Whitehorse’s Kyle Power, Michael Abbott, Vesta Mather and Kendra Murray powered to seventh out of four-person teams and first in four-person mixed at 8:36:22.
“It’s the first of maybe a few more,” said Michael. “I guess we’re pretty happy. We didn’t come in with many expectations.
“Kendra and I have done quite a few before and this was one of the ones where the wind was right from the get-go. Everyone had to deal with it. Most of us got to ride with other people and that really helped.”
The eight-person mixed division – the largest in the event with 76 teams – had a fitting winner.
Thom Ely, owner of Sockeye Cycle in Skagway, founded the Kluane Chilkat race 22 years ago and hasn’t missed one yet. He and his Sockeye Cyclists team took first with a time of 9:21:22.
He founded the race “because the Haines highway is such a beautiful ride,” he said. “The Klondike Road Race – the running race – had been going on for 10 or 12 years or so, so I thought we should have a bike race on the Haines road.
“We got the race going and that year we had a 163 competitors and now we’re at 1,300.”
Whitehorse’s Big Bad Bruins, captained by Justin Quigley, placed second, and Whitehorse’s Mega Hurtz, captained by Julianna Scramstad, came third.
Whitehorse teams grabbed five out of the top six spots in eight-person women, but not the top one.
All three eight-person men’s teams were from Whitehorse and only two finished.
Juneau’s Kathy Tide and Melanie White took first in two-person women. Whitehorse’s Christine Paradis and Magaret Mundell took second with a time of 11:12:18.
“I’d like to thank my dad (Stuart) who did support for me,” added Clark. “He did a great job. And I’d like to thank the organizers for putting this on every year. It’s an awesome event and it’s a real pleasure to come out and do it every year.”
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