Mick Bakker won overall two years ago in his first entry in the North Pole Triathlon.

The 38-year-old physician’s assistant from Anchorage lauded the Olympic-distance event after he returned Saturday.

“It’s a great race; it’s a pretty sweet course. The swim is wonderful,” Bakker said. “The people that put it on are absolutely amazing.”

North Pole Triathlon 2019

Eventual winner Mick Bakker leaves the bicycle transition area to start the run portion of the North Pole Triathlon at the Chena Lake Recreation Area on Saturday. Danny Martin/News-Miner

 Bakker was amazing, too, because he won Saturday after leading every portion of the triathlon, which started and finished at the Chena Lake Recreation Area in North Pole.

He survived the hot, 70-degree weather and compiled a total of 2 hours, 3 minutes and 48.91 seconds in the seventh annual event with a 1,500-meter swim (1,641 yards), 40K bike (24.8 miles) and 10K run (6.2 miles).

Jon Iannaccone, a North Pole Triathlon newcomer from Kenai, was second overall in 2:19:59.5.  David Withoff, the triathlon’s oldest finisher at 62, took third overall in 2:23:23.87.

Pam Winders, of Wasilla, was fourth overall and won the women’s title in 2:24:00.35, and Anchorage’s Kelley Jansen rounded out the top five overall and was the women’s runner-up in 2:24:38.40.

Saturday’s heat was tough during the run, which was on a two-lap, mostly trail course with some gravel sections.

“I just pushed it a little harder. There’s a few shady sections, so I knew I could make up some time there,” Bakker said of the run.

“Last time I was here, I really seemed to melt on that back side of the run. So, I got a lot of water (Saturday), walked the aid section. Fortunately, there really wasn’t anybody pushing from behind, so I could kind of keep it in control.”

The aid stations were at the 2- and 4-mile sections of the run course, which Bakker posted a split of 45:42.95.

He had the only sub-20 minute split (19:03.65) for the swim in Chena Lake.

“That’s a big reason I’m back. I love this lake; it’s clear as can be,” Bakker said. “The calm water, one big loop.

“The mistake is to always just go way too hard at the beginning. I just kept steady because I know you can ruin it if you go too hard.”

Bakker also clocked the triathlon’s only sub-hour split of 57:32.39 on the bike course. The bike course’s sections included Lawrence Road underneath the Richardson Highway and NPHS (North Pole High School) Boulevard.

North Pole Triathlon 2019

North Pole Triathlon co-director Amber Barlow watches Debbie Paine swim toward the shore of Chena Lake during the swim portion of the triathlon Saturday. Danny Martin/News-Miner

Bakker said he never takes a triathlon for granted when he described winning the North Pole Triathlon for the second time.

“There’s a ton of great racers here in Alaska,” Bakker said.

“I’m not too far from (age) 40, and so I realize it’s really a gift to get a win now and then.”

Iannaccone’s triathlon experience includes Ironmans in South Africa and New York state in 2004, Austria in 2005 and Maryland in 2009. Each competition had full Ironman courses of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run.

The attorney from Kenai put the much-shorter North Pole Triathlon high on the list of triathlon’s he enjoyed.

“I’ve raced on four continents and raced all over the world and done big Ironman events, and I’ve got to say this little event in North Pole, Alaska, makes my top five,”  he said.

“Best event I’ve ever done. I loved it; it was gorgeous. It was neat. It was just a totally awesome race.”

Winders led the women’s field Saturday and earned a top-five finish a year after making her North Pole Triathlon debut and placing second among the women. 

The 37-year-old project assistant from Wasilla said her pacing didn’t change much from last year’s triathlon.

“Nothing (was different), other than the fact that I knew the course,” she said. “So that helped a lot, knowing where I’m going and when to take my chances, and how to run because I don’t do well on gravel.”

Winders said her original plan was to do interval sprints on the run course Saturday.

“But I can’t sprint on the gravel, I found out,” she said with a laugh. 

“So that went to the wayside and I just ended up trying to stick with about an eight-minute (per mile) pace, which, for me on gravel, is pretty good.”

Winders’ run split was 52 minutes, 1.74 seconds.

Thirty-three people completed the triathlon.

Contact News-Miners sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.