Snow may have forced the cancellation of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne yesterday, prompting some mutterings to the effect that riders aren’t as hard as they were in Bernard Hinault’s day, but 4,500 miles away in Alaska, a fresh snowfall failed to prevent 31 cyclists and 18 hardy souls on foot from embarking on the 2013 edition of the Iditarod Trail Invitational.
By a little before 11am local time this morning, 21 hours after the race started, the leaders of the bike division, competing on snow bikes with fat tyres, had already covered some 110 miles.
Most participants opting for the 350-mile route to McGrath from the one time mining supply town of Knik, which boomed for less than a decade before becoming a ghost town by 1917.
A dozen – all but four travelling on foot, with one of the cyclists being regular participant Alan Tilling from the UK – aim to complete the longer, 1,000-mile route from Knik to Nome, but the number who achieve that in an average year can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
While there are settlements along the route that have post offices to which supplies can be sent, there are strict rules on the longer itinerary in particular about riders needing to be self-sufficient.
TRhe 350-mile route was first raced by bike in 1997, with the 1,000-mile route following in 2,000, but as the race website points out, the history of cycling here goes back much further to the Yukon gold rush at the turn of the last century, used by those who couldn't afford a dog team.
According to the Alaska Dispatch, this year’s conditions – at noon today, it was minus 6 Celsius in Anchorage – are benign compared to those that greeted the race 12 months ago, when snowstorms throughout forced cyclists to push their bikes for much of the race.
Even that seems easy compared to another recent edition related here in which competitors were confronted with waist deep snowdrifts for miles upon end and had to left their bikes above their heads as they waded through – and then, when they no longer had strength to lift, had to push their bikes ahead of them then drag themselves forward.
The race takes its inspiration from the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Alaska’s biggest sporting event, which began in 1974 and attracts more than 50 mushers and their dogs to the start in March each year.
Besides the fact it its raced in stages, there’s a link to the Tour de France, with the last-placed sled bearing a red lantern – an actual rather than figurative one – to signify not only the overall position, but also the persistence that keeps them going.
The video below of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Invitational gives an idea of what this year’s participants can expect – at around 30 seconds in, watch out for the guy who almost rides straight into the person with the video camera within yards of the start.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.