FAIRBANKS - With only 50 miles to go in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, Fairbanks fat biker Kevin Breitenbach and fellow fat biker Tim Bernston, of Anchorage, were dueling for the lead at a record pace Tuesday afternoon in the 350-mile human-powered race on the Iditarod Trail.
Just one minute separated the two cyclists leaving the last checkpoint of Nikolai. Breitenbach left the village of Nikolai at 1:30 p.m. and Bernston gave chase at 1:31. The two cyclists have been riding neck-and-neck the entire race and are about 12 hours ahead of the record pace Jay Petervary set in winning last year's race from Knik to McGrath.
Cyclist Alec Petro, of Massachusetts, actually beat both Breitenbach and Bernston to Nikolai, arriving at 12:30 p.m., but he stayed in the checkpoint just over two hours and didn't leave until 2:36 p.m. Breitenbach reached Nikolai at 12:50 p.m. and Bernston pulled in at 12:55.
It should take racers about 6 to 8 hours to cover the last 50 miles of what is a relatively flat trail to the finish line in McGrath.
Though the 100-mile trail from Rohn to Nikolai was reported to be rough because of lack of snow, cyclists appeared to make good time crossing what is known as the Farewell Burn, an old burn area that is notorious for sparse snow conditions and a trail littered with exposed tussocks that can make for a bumpy ride.
But it took Breitenbach, Bernston and Petro only about 22 hours to cover the 135-mile stretch of trail from Puntilla Lake to Nikolai that included climbing up and over 3,160-foot Rainy Pass. They averaged more than 6 mph, which almost matched their speed in the first 165 miles of the race on a trail that race officials described as a "super highway."
It's unknown what time the races arrived in and left the Rohn checkpoint at Mile 200 because the only communication race officials have with volunteers manning the checkpoint is a satellite phone and connections were poor.
As of 3:30 p.m., 13 cyclists were reported out of Rohn but no one else was reported in Nikolai yet. Six-time champion Peter Basinger was in fourth place leaving the Puntilla Lake checkpoint at the 165-mile mark, about 2 1/2 hours behind the leaders.
Fairbanks fat bikers Jay Cable, Heather Best and Jeff Oatley were running in sixth, seventh and eighth places, respectively, about 10 to 12 hours behind the leaders. Cable left the Puntilla checkpoint at 12:07 a.m. on Tuesday heading for Rohn while Best and Oatley, who is traveling all the way to Nome in the longer 1,000-mile race, left the checkpoint at 2 a.m. after a nearly eight-hour rest. Cable, who arrived at the checkpoint 13 minutes behind Best and Oatley, stayed only about six hours before departing.
For the most up-to-date results, go to www.iditarodtrailinvitational.org.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.