A determined stretch run by Fairbanks cyclist Jeff Oatley fell just short before midnight Wednesday as Anchorage's Pete Basinger claimed his fourth victory in the human-powered Iditarod Invitational.
Basinger pedaled across the McGrath finish line at 11:45 p.m. to finish the 350-mile winter endurance race in 3 days, 9 hours and 45 minutes. Basinger's time was about four hours off his 2007 race record.
Oatley, the defending champion, sliced an hour off Basinger's lead in the final 50 miles from Nikolai to McGrath. He finished at 12:18 a.m. Thursday, 33 minutes after Basinger.
"He got a little closer than I expected," Basinger said by phone Thursday morning from McGrath. "I was a little surprised it was a half hour, but I had been looking over my shoulder the whole race, looking for a black dot during the daylight or a headlamp at night."
A month ago, the order of finish was reversed at the 135-mile Arrowhead race in International Falls, Minn., where Oatley managed to nip Basinger by 10 seconds.
That race didn't feature the tropical temperatures of this year's Iditarod Invitational. Racers in Minnesota began at minus 21 -- some 60 degrees cooler than it was during portions of the Invitational.
"It was really warm," Basinger said. "I slept out in the (Farewell) Burn this year, and it was like camping in the summer. I just found a dry spot."
A yawning gap separated Basinger and Oatley from the rest of the field. Wyoming cyclist Jay Petervary left the Nikolai checkpoint in third place Thursday at 3:50 p.m., starting a 50-mile ride to the McGrath finish line. No other racers had reached Nikolai by then, although a trio of runners had joined a large pack of bikers leaving Rohn on Thursday morning.
In the early days of the race, which began Sunday on Knik Lake, Basinger got only 4 1/2 hours sleep. On the 80-mile crossing of the Farewell Burn between Rohn and Nikolai, it finally caught up with him.
"I was just too sleep-deprived to make much progress," he said.
So Basinger napped about three hours at Farewell Lake, where "it was really warm, like camping in the summer," he said.
Napping was great. Awakening was tougher.
"That's the thing when you take a nap," he said. "It's torture after you've gotten to bed to get moving again."
Even so, he left Nikolai with an 89-minute lead over Oakley. He needed most of it. Basinger covered the final 50 miles in about seven hours, but Oakley needed only six.
"Jeff made it a lot quicker from Nikolai," Basinger said. "The trail was as good as it gets. Hard as a rock, with no snow to blow around."
Iditarod Trail Invitational
Standings as of Thursday night
Finishers -- 1) Pete Basinger, bike, 3 days, 9 hours, 45 minutes; 2) Jeff Oatley, bike, 3 days, 10 hours, 18 minutes.
Out of Nikolai -- 3) Jay Petervary, bike, 3:50 p.m.
Out of Rohn (left Thursday morning; exact time unavailable) -- Tracey Petervary, bike; Dave Pramann, bike; Sean Grady, bike; Bill Fleming, bike; Chris Plesko, bike; Kyle Amstadter, bike; Nicola Saccavini, bike; Nicola Ghiraldo bike; Simon Honore, bike; Sebastiano Favaro, bike; Tim Stern, bike; Eric Johnson, foot; Tom Jarding, foot; Glenn Mackie, foot; Tim Hewitt, foot; Lou Kobin, bike; Eric Warkentin, bike; Brij Potnis, bike.