Alaska's biggest cycling event began Friday, when 70 riders hit the road in the Fireweed 400, a 400-mile bike race from Sheep Mountain Lodge to Valdez and back.
Bikes will rule the road Saturday morning, when nearly 700 additional riders will compete in 200-, 100- and 50-mile races. The shorter races begin at Sheep Mountain Lodge between 6 and 11:30 a.m., sending riders against the grain of returning riders in the 400.
"This is one of our better years," race director Peter Lekisch said of participation. "We've approached 900 riders in the past. I know, because I used to order 900 shirts, but this year I only ordered 800."
The 70 riders in the 400-mile race will compete in solo, two-person relay and four-person relay divisions, all of which embarked on their journey between 3:30 and 4 p.m., Friday.
The solo division winner is expected to cross the finish line Saturday afternoon, with relay teams being capable of finishing Saturday morning.
Friday's start went well, said Lekisch, who was excited about a record eight relay teams competing in the 400-miler this year. A new relay team called the Samurai Cereal Killers is comprised of accomplished solo riders Janice Tower, Kristin Wolf, Jill Valerius and Julie Berberich. Wolf won the overall solo title last year, topping all riders in 25 hours, 11 minutes, 51 seconds, setting a women's solo record. Tower held the previous record of 25:17:18, set in 2003.
"The Fireweed 400 will be the first relay experience for the team whose members specialize in long distance solo events," Tower said in a press release. "We're looking forward to breaking out of our comfort zone by taking short pulls at high intensity."
The four-person relay record belongs to the 2003 men's team of Tim Lamb, Jens Beck, Andy Duenow and Kevin Donley, who finished in 16:56:30. The men's solo record is 19:56:32, set by Jeff Oatley in 2006.