Some 1,200 cyclists, including about 200 to 250 from the Juneau area, will hit the Haines Road on Saturday for the Eighth Annual Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay.
The relay race starts in Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, at 8:30 a.m. for two- and four-person teams and at 9 a.m. for eight-person squads. The race will finish, 147.8 miles later, in Haines, Alaska.
When the race starts, two Juneau riders -- Skip Elliott and Dan Fremgen -- will be entered for the seventh straight year. According to Dave Ringle of the Juneau Freewheelers Association, Elliott and Fremgen are the only two Juneau racers who have been in the race every year it's been held.
``It has to be one of the prettiest races,'' said Elliott, who will team up with Fremgen and 60-year-old Georg Kriegel of Edmonton, Alberta, for this year's race. ``There's good pavement, good scenery and a lot of great camaraderie. And there's a great meal in Haines every year after the race is done. We have a lot of good riders in the race, but not those top end racers, so it's anybody's race.''
Elliott, 50, and Fremgen, 36, have been teammates every time they've entered the race. Three times they've done the race as a duo -- their first two runs and again last year. The other four times, Elliott and Fremgen invited friends to join them as four-person teams. This will be their first time riding as a trio.
``Skip and I have always been together, but we've had people from Juneau, Skagway, Whitehorse, Germany and now Alberta ride with us,'' Fremgen said. ``It's great fun, and it's a well-done event. It's a relay, rather than an individual race, so there's the team factor. And it's a really good party. There's something for everyone. There's competition, if you want it, and there's also the crowd that wants to have fun. It's a great venue. You can't get much better than the Haines Highway for a scenic ride.''
This winter Fremgen had two different surgeries and he said getting in shape for the race was one of his big incentives to get back on the bike. Fremgen said he used to be a regular racer, but lately this is the only cycling event he does anymore. He said the first year he and Elliott entered the race there were only 130 people entered, and now it approaches a limit of 1,200 riders every year.
``This is a great event for the casual touring rider,'' Elliott said. ``They might enter as a member of an eight-man team the first year, for the camaraderie. Then the next year they're on a four-man team and the next year they're buying a new bike.''
The race typically features a field that is about one-third American and two-thirds Canadian, with about 90 percent of the Americans coming from Southeast Alaska, Ringle said.
``There will be about 200, 250 from Juneau,'' Ringle said. ``We have a pretty full ferry going up on Friday. Most of the people had already made their reservations way in advance, and they got the Malaspina on the run in time, so we aren't having any problems with the fire (last week that took the Columbia out of commission for the year).''
Steve Williams of Haines, who is the vice president of the 15member race board (which also includes Ringle and Chip Lende of Haines), said there were 36 teams entered from the Juneau-DouglasAuke Bay area this year. There are 10 teams from Skagway, eight from Haines and three from Sitka, with the only other American team coming from Kenmore, Wash.
A pre-race entry list shows some creative team names coming from Southeast. A few of the more colorful nicknames are - Seven Men and an Athlete of Douglas, the Minstrel Cycles of Juneau, the Cycle Paths of Juneau, Missing Link of Sitka, the Brothel Bikers-Red Onion Saloon of Skagway, Quads O'Jello of Juneau, Captain Stubin's Illegitimate Children of Skagway and Team Filthy of Juneau.
A three-member team from Whitehorse, called the Lost Amigos, won last year's race in 7 hours, 29 minutes, 31 seconds, a time well off the 1997 course record of 6:15:47 set by the Juneau trio of Dan Graves, Julie Graves and Tony Jacobsen. It's unclear if the Lost Amigos - Ray Warner, Ross Phillips and Paul Christianson - is in this year's race.
However, last year's secondplace team from Sitka - the Yellow Jersey Cyclists (Tim Revalee, Dan Kelliher, Bill Hughes and Gary Smith) - is back in the race and is looking to beat its time of 7:36:37 last year. The Sprocket Rockets of Juneau - Dave Pusich, Doug Woodby and Eric Olsen - took third place in 7:50:09 last year. A team called the Sprocket Rockets is entered this year, but has a different configuration.
Some of the top teams from Juneau this year include the trio of Woodby, Jacobsen and Olsen and the trio of Dave Pusich, Paul Pusich and John Bursell. The top teams from Haines include the trio of Dan Harrington, Damond Hoffman and Sean Asquith, and the quartet of Chip Lende, Heather Lende, Williams and Kevin Lucas, and Williams said both could finish in the top five.
Race coordinator Sue Meikle of Whitehorse said she drove the course last week and conditions should be fairly clear for the race. She said there was one spot where construction equipment is ready to tear up the pavement between Mile 110-113, but she's not sure if they'll hold up construction until after the race Saturday. She also said there's a spot near Checkpoint 6 (Mile 105.5) where a recently concluded construction project left a soft shoulder that is still too soft for race sag vehicles.