HAINES JUNCTION, Yukon Territory -- Nearly 1,100 cyclists, including some 300 to 400 from Southeast Alaska, will hit the Haines Highway on Saturday for the Ninth Annual Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay.
The relay race starts here at 8:30 a.m. Yukon time (7:30 a.m. Alaska time) for solo, two-person and four-person teams, with eight-person teams starting at 9 a.m. The race follows the Haines Highway through Kluane National Park, Tatshenshini/Alsek Provincial Park and the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve before ending 147.8 miles later in Haines, Alaska.
This year's race features 1,070 riders, as of earlier this week (racers can register through tonight), with about 186 teams, race coordinator Sue Meikle said. She said there were 102 eight-person teams registered, 69 four-person teams, 11 two-person teams and four solo riders. The race is capped at 1,200 riders, a total that has only been hit once, during a bad-weather race about three years ago that Meikle said may have scared a few racers off. Last year's race had 1,103 riders, which is about where Meikle thought this year's total will end up after last-minute team changes are announced.
"The number of four-person teams is increasing," said Meikle, who is based out of Whitehorse. "We now have almost as many teams as we had riders when we first started. We started in 1993 with 200 to 250 riders."
The four solo riders are Ryan Madley of Haines Junction, Michael Barton of Whitehorse, and just this week the Juneau couple of Janice and Steve Tower both registered as solo racers. Meikle said there were 29 teams from Juneau-Douglas, two teams from Sitka, five teams from Haines and 10 teams from Skagway registered so far.
Dave Ringle of the Juneau Freewheelers Bicycle Club said two Juneau riders, Skip Elliott and Dan Fremgen, are the only local riders who have competed in every one of the relays.
Over the years, Juneau riders have done well in the race with the team of Juneau's Dan Graves, Julie Graves and Tony Jacobsen setting the 1997 course record of 6 hours, 15 minutes, 47 seconds. The Graves-Graves-Jacobsen team isn't entered this year as Julie Graves continues to recover from a near-fatal hang glider accident last fall (she is back riding her bike, but needs to rebuild her strength and conditioning, Ringle said).
Last year's race was won in 7:28:18 by the Sitka team called Yellow Jersey Cyclists (Tim Revalee, Dan Kelliher, Brett Peters and Gary Smith), but that team will not have the same configuration this year. Last year's runner-up team, Le Velo Bleu of Whitehorse, included the three riders who won two years ago under the name Lost Amigos (Le Velo Bleu had four riders).
"The defending champs won't be back this year because one or two of them are climbing Mount McKinley," Ringle said. "I heard Dan Kelliher is on a two-person team, so that should still be a tough team."
Ringle said a couple of teams to watch include the Sprocket Rockets of Juneau (Doug Woodby, Chris Scholes, Dave Pusich and Eric Olsen) and Team Rotary International of Juneau (John McConnochie, Scott Fischer, 18-year-old Danish exchange student Martin Strange and his father Max Strange). Ringle's team includes Terry Ward and former Juneau residents Jim and Janice Sheufelt, who now live in Yakima, Wash.
"The weather in Juneau for training this year has been terrible," Ringle said. "So many riders are just now getting into form. Who knows?"
While some riders enter the relay for the race aspect of the event, for many riders the race is as much a social gathering as it is a competition. The legs are within the grasp of most recreational cyclists, ranging from just 12 miles long (the first leg, which has the most hillclimbing) to about 25 miles long, with most of them in the 14-20 mile range.
"Legs three and four are both fairly tough, while legs seven and eight are all downhill," Meikle said. "But if the wind is pretty bad they can be rough, like last year."
There is some ongoing road construction along the Haines Highway, and Ringle and Meikle both suggested riders doing Leg Seven might want to have access to a mountain bike for part of the leg. Meikle said the construction company will not be working on the road Saturday and has agreed to pull its vehicles off the main road for the cyclists.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.