Iditarod Trail Invitational Gets Underway
Fairbanks, AK - The first eight cyclists in this year’s Iditarod Trail Invitational have checked in at Yentna station along the Iditarod trail. It’s the first checkpoint in an ultra-distance human powered race that started just north of Anchorage yesterday. Cyclists and runners in the race can choose to travel the Iditarod Trail for 350 miles to McGrath or they can go full 1000 miles to Nome. Kathi Merchant is the race co-organizer. She was at yesterday’s start line. “We had a really good crowd of fans, friends and family," she says. "The funny thing that happens after the start – we have checkpoints, but we don’t really mark the trail - so the veterans head off in one direction, the runners go off. It’s really confusing and people go ‘What’s happening why are they going in different directions?’.”
Eventually the trail comes together and follows the historic Iditarod route. Athletes are invited to ski, bike or tackle the trail on foot. There are no skiers in this year’s race. Last year’s biking champion, Pete Basinger returned to defend his title. He set the 350 mile race record back in 2007, arriving in McGrath in three days and five hours. Two Fairbanks-area bikers are expected to lead the pack this year. Veteran and former champion Jeff Oatley and rookie Kevin Breitenbach are among the 36 athletes headed for McGrath. Merchant says those invited to compete are very experienced. “It’s a very competitive field in the running and biking division," she says. "It’s gonna be exciting to see how things pan out on the trail.”
Merchant says there’s a possibility the 12 athlete’s headed for Nome could catch a glimpse of dog teams racing in this year’s Iditarod. That race starts next weekend. “I did the race in 2008," she recalls. "I did see most of the mushers. Some passed us in checkpoints and villages, but the first night I remember in particular, we were bivyed in a swamp in some trees and we saw the leaders come through. I could just see the mushers and the dogs.” Only 12 racers will try to make the entire 1000 mile journey to Nome. Merchant says it could take those on foot up to a month to get there. Bikers are expected to take about 15 days to get to Nome.