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It's a Record Breaking Year for the Iditarod Trail Invitational

Josh Spice
friend of KUAC

Fairbanks, AK -  Bikers obliterated a previous course record in this year’s Idiatrod Trail Invitational.  The first riders pedaled across the finish line Wednesday morning to complete the 350 mile race between Knik and McGrath.  Four of the race’s top five finishers this year are all cyclists from Alaska. 

Jay Petervary beat out three competitive rookies and one very experienced veteran to win this year’s Iditarod Trail Invitational.  This is Petervary’s sixth ITI and his first win.   “I didn’t sleep at all and I didn’t spend an hour at any checkpoint,” he said sleepily.

There are six checkpoints along the 350 mile trail between Knik and McGrath.  Petervary says good trail conditions and warm weather had a lot to do with his record-breaking performance.  He won the race in two days, 19 hours and 16 minutes, shaving nearly ten hours from a previous course record set in 2007. But he says neither winning nor setting the record were part of his plan.  “I think when it comes to the Iditarod Trail Invitational, you can’t really make a plan," he says.  "You just have to come prepared. I don’t like to try to say that I’m going for the win, or I’m going for the record when I know there’s so many variables, weather being the biggest one that could change the whole event.”

Seven time finisher and 2009 champion Jeff Oatley of Fairbanks, tied training partner and Rookie Kevin Breitenbach for third place behind Anchorage biker Tim Bernston.  All three men pedaled across the line less than hour behind Petervary.  Jeff Oatley says this year’s race wasn’t like any of his others. “Normally, the race starts out pretty easy and gets harder as you go," says Oatley, "This was the opposite. Because of the snow conditions, getting up to Yentna was a real grind, we were burning a lot energy, but then from Puntilla to Rainy pass was unbelievable. It was dead calm, nice weather, comfortable temperatures and great trail.  We were riding almost all the way up the pass.”

Kevin Breitenbach, also of Fairbanks, was nervous heading into his first ITI. “It’s really easy to ride a bike, it’s really difficult to get ready for a race," he says.  "I think my biggest nerves were just that being 6-0 hours into a race and having two hours of sleep and for the most part it just wasn’t an issue.  Riding bikes is fun, and I realized riding bikes is always fun.”

The race ends in McGrath at the home of Berlin native Peter Schneiderheinze.  He cooks an enormous breakfast for athletes who are completing the 350 race, or continuing on the 1000 mile journey to Nome.
“I used to be a racer myself, not this kind of extreme racer, but those guys impress me, they’re bike racers too!” laughs Schneiderheinze, whose menu includes something called a “man cake,” which even race organizer, Bill Merchant can’t really describe. “A man cake is way too much to be called a pancake," laughs MErchant. "They’re about an inch and a half thick with cranberries and blueberries, no I have seen some girl racers devour two man cakes like it was nothing, so it has nothing to do with real gender you know.”

Race co-organizer Katie Merchant is keeping track of statistics as racers continue to make their way down the trail.  She says the top five men may not be the only athletes to break records this year.  Eszter Horanyi, the first female biker from Colorado, is on pace to break the 350 mile record, as is foot racer David Johnston, from Willow, Alaska.  There are no skiers competing this year.  Athletes can also choose to race for 1000 miles to Nome.  Only one woman has ever made it to Nome, but this year three hope to cross under the burled arch. “Between Lorrain Hewitt, Ann Ver Hoef and Shawn McTaggart, we have quite the women’s field signed up for Nome this year,” says Merchant. 29 bikers and 19 runners signed up to compete in this year’s ITI.  Only 12 of them are planning to push on for Nome.