FAIRBANKS — It didn’t take long for the lead pack in the Iditarod Trail Invitational to get whittled down.
Taking advantage of what so far has been a firm trail and good riding conditions, four-time champion Peter Basinger moved to the front of the pack on Monday about one-third of the way into the world’s longest human-powered race.
He didn’t have much company.
Basinger was the first racer to arrive at the Puntilla Lake checkpoint on Monday at 3:34 p.m. Puntilla Lake is 165 miles into the 350-mile race, which follows the Iditarod Trail from Knik Lake to McGrath.
Nobody else had joined Basinger as of 10 p.m., according to results posted on the event’s website.
Basinger is on a slightly slower pace then 2007, when he set the course record of 3 days, 5 hours, 40 minutes. That year, he made it to Puntilla Lake in 24 hours. This year, his time was 25 1/2 hours.
Basinger’s closest pursuer, Jay Petervary of Wyoming, arrived at the Finger Lake checkpoint just 17 minutes behind Basinger on Monday morning, but he left the checkpoint trailing him by 44 minutes. Finger Lake is 130 miles into the race.
Fairbanks cyclist Jeff Oatley, who finished second last year, was running in third place. Oatley was about three hours behind Basinger and Petervary when he arrived in Finger Lake at 11:28 a.m. Monday. He only spent an hour at Finger Lake, departing at 12:20 p.m., according to the race website.
Rookie Greg Matyas of Anchorage was traveling with Oatley, arriving in Finger Lake at 11:30 a.m., but he had not left Finger Lake as of 10 p.m., according to the website.
Those four cyclists are several hours ahead of the rest of the pack, which was strung out from for 100 miles behind them.
Forty-four competitors started the race Sunday on Knik Lake. The field includes 30 cyclists, 10 walkers and four skiers.
The four lead cyclists have been shadowing each other since the race began at 2 p.m. Sunday on Knik Lake.
They gained hours on the rest of the field in the first 60 miles and continued to separate themselves from the pack as they moved farther up the trail.
But only Petervary, who is one of 10 racers going all the way to Nome, could come close to matching Basinger’s 5.5 mph pace on the softer 75 miles of trail between Skwentna and Puntilla Lake. Oatley and Matyas averaged 3.8 mph on the 40-mile stretch between Skwentna and Finger Lake.
Oatley is one of three local competitors who started the race, though only two remain.
Fairbanks cyclist Rocky Reifenstuhl pulled out of the race shortly after it started on Sunday, though race officials did not have any details on why he scratched. Reifenstuhl suffered three broken ribs in a biking accident in New Zealand a month before the race, which may have had something to do with his decision to pull out.
Andy Stearns of Fairbanks, one of only four skiers in the race, is leading the ski division. He arrived at the Yentna checkpoint, 60 miles into the race, at 3:05 p.m. Monday and left after 10 minutes for Skwentna.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.