It pays to cycle

Central Valley Bears '45 cyclist David Fischer goes the extra mile to prepare for the race and shaves his legs. Central Valley Bears '45 cyclist Mark Larsen speeds past competition in Leg 5.

Two local teams have top finishes in KCIBR, one hits streak of bad luck

Story and Photos by Kelly Roberts

It was a migration of two-wheelers on Saturday, June 21st, as cyclists caused a relayed frenzy in the 16th annual Kluane to Chilkat bike race.
The 1,300 cyclists, who were part of more than 200 different teams, traversed 148 miles of blacktop in total along the Haines Highway, covering remote regions of the Yukon, British Columbia and Alaska.
The race boasts a spectacularly beautiful course, rising 1,500 feet in elevation before cascading 3,400 feet over the final 60 miles to the finish line in Haines. Teams are separated into categories of 1, 2, 4, and 8 people, and then sub-divided into all-women's teams, all-men's teams, and mixed-gender teams.
Skagway consistently makes a strong showing at the event, and this year proved to be no exception.
Skagway-Haines team Sockeye Cycle – comprised of mostly first-time racers – placed third in the "8-person team of mixed gender" category, according to preliminary race results gathered at the time this story went to press. Standout performances from the team included first-time racer Jeff Boudreau and seasoned veteran Thom Ely, who each placed first in their category for their respective third and seventh legs of the race.
"(The race) was an uplifting and encouraging experience," said Sockeye racer Dakota Ellison.
Team Soft and Supple, a regular Skagway presence at the race, placed second for the "8-person men's team" category, according to preliminary results.
Yet Skagway team Central Valley Bears '45 (the team's name is a tribute to Team Captain Thomas Pickerel's mother's high school mascot and graduating class) had to work a little harder than in previous years. For this team, whose five core members helped bring home a first-place ribbon in 2003, the race turned into a battle of man versus machine when it suffered two debilitating flat tires.
The weather seemed to mimic the team's luck, turning from a warm and sunny morning to a windy leg 4, then a cold and rainy afternoon for legs 5 thru 8.
After a strong start by Jeff Neis, David Fischer, and Karen Briner (Central Valley Bear's '45's first three riders), things took a turn for the worse on leg 4. Rider John Thomas, who goes by JT, noticed his tire was quickly deflating part-way into his leg. Luckily a team support van, waiting for him just a short distance down the road, had the equipment to repair the leak and JT was able to finish the leg.

Team Central Valley Bears '45 on the morning of the race. The sunny morning turned gray as a streak of bad luck set in. Racers kick off the 16th annual Haines Junction to Haines bike relay. Sockeye Cycle's Erich Melville makes racing look easy.

The delay cost the team several precious minutes, but teammates Mark Larsen and Thomas Pickerel started closing the gap in the two legs that followed.
"We like to get to Haines early to get a good parking spot at the parade grounds," joked Pickerel about passing other teams during the race.
Despite their efforts, leg 7 put an end to the last bits of remaining hope that the team might finish in the top 10. Six miles before the end of his 23-mile leg, Central Valley Bears '45 Leg 7 racer Spencer Morgan popped a tire. Thinking one of his team's support vehicles would be waiting for him further down the road, Morgan jumped to his feet and started running while pushing his bike at his side.
"I was spewing off a whole string of words that I hadn't used in a long time…a couple people stopped to see if I was hurt," said Morgan.
With one of the team's support vehicles at the end of his leg and the other support vehicle nowhere in sight, Morgan made a valiant effort to save what bits of time he could by running alongside his bike while competitor after competitor passed by. Finally a Good Samaritan stopped his car and offered his bike kit to repair the tire.
Morgan would later find out that his tailing support vehicle had been held up in a 35-minute long wait at US Customs while crossing the border.
Central Valley Bears '45 Leg 8 racer John Briner pulled through with a very strong finish, but earlier problems proved too debilitating to save the team's overall finish. Like most teams, however, it wasn't about the overall finish for this team, they were in it for the love of the race.
Riders in years past will be delighted to hear of improvements to the race this year. New pavement has made much of the ride smoother. Race officials also introduced a magnetic fob system to more accurately record times and make official race times available sooner. Although the fobbing-in process proved somewhat cumbersome, the handicap it produced affects all relay teams relatively the same.
"Kudos to them for trying to make the time as accurate as possible," said racer Mark Larsen, "but this system needs to be refined."
The day ended with dreams of next year's glory wins and promises to start training tomorrow.

Michael Yee and Bruce Weber of Skagway also competed as a 2-person team and finished. To download complete results, go to http://www.kcibr.org/Docs/Results/Results2008.html

Last-leg competitors John Briner and Mike Korsmo share a laugh after the big finish. Team Sockeye's Emily Moody crosses the finish of Leg 6.