Sports

Fairbanks biker sizzles on snowy trail to win 300-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational

Tyson Flaharty, a Fairbanks skier-turned-biker, registered one of the fastest times in race history Tuesday to win the 300-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational.

Flaharty, riding a fat-tire bike, made the journey from Knik Lake to McGrath in less than two days. He’s one of five men who have needed less than 48 hours to finish the race, which dates back to 2002.

“This was quite the crew that was here and Tyson joined a pretty impressive club of riders here,” race organizer Kathi Merchant said in a phone interview from McGrath.

Flaharty’s time of 1 day, 23 hours, 54 minutes was nearly six hours short of the 2015 race record set by John Lackey. Lackey made the journey in 1 day, 18 hours, 32 minutes, and was one of three bikers that year to finish in less than two days. Another sub-48-hour finish came in 2016.

This year, snow was plentiful and the weather was nearly perfect from Knik to McGrath. Second-place Jay Petervary, a three-time champion from Idaho, said it was the best trail he’s seen in 11 races.

“The weather was phenomenal,” Petervary said from McGrath. “Big, blue sky, great sun and temperatures were ideal, meaning between 20 and negative-15. We like it around zero for riding, because you don’t sweat as much.

“The trail was really good too. I didn’t walk any of it.”

Most years, bikers need to get off and push their bikes across portions of the trail, especially when going up and over the Alaska Range. That wasn’t the case this year, Merchant said.

“This year they were able to pedal up to Rainy Pass,” she said. “It is often drifted in, so the fact they were able to pedal up and over the pass, that’s pretty special and unique.

“It was because of the lack of wind. You can have a perfectly good trail and all it takes is one wind storm and the trail is gone.”

Flaharty, 33, was a talented cross-country skier as a teenager in Fairbanks, twice earning spots on the U.S. team for the World Junior Championships. He skied in college for UAF and, according to a brief biography at 907bikes.com, he once harbored Olympic aspirations.

“I had goals for a while to go for the 2014 Olympics in xc skiing but that faded away once I realized I needed to make money and biking took over,” his bio reads.

These days Flaharty manages Goldstream Sports, and he and wife Davya are raising two children. His father-in-law is Bad Bob Baker of Fairbanks, whose many claims to fame include skiing both the Iditarod and Yukon Quest trails and winning multiple titles in the old Iditaski race.

Petervary, 46, said Flaharty seized the lead sometime during the first night of the race, which started Sunday afternoon. He said he pushed hard for the first 90 miles and then stopped for a three-hour nap.

“While I was sleeping some other guys got ahead of me,” Petervary said. “I ended up reeling everybody in but Tyson. The advantage of not being in front was I could see where he was. He was about an hour and 20 minutes ahead of me in Rohn.

“… I knew he didn’t sleep at all. I thought he was gonna come apart in second night but it never happened.”

Going without sleep is the only way to get a sub-48 hour time, said Petervary, who said he finished in about 50 hours.

Third place went to Clinton Hodges of Anchorage, who finished Wednesday morning in 2 days, 5 hours, 21 seconds. Peter Basinger arrived Wednesday afternoon to take fourth place.

The top three finishers were all bikers. The field of 49 included 28 bikers, 19 runners and two skiers.

The Iditarod Trail Invitational is one of a handful of human-powered wilderness endurance races held on portions of the Iditarod Trail. The ITI includes 150-mile race to Rainy Pass, the 300-mile race to McGrath and a 960-mile race to Nome.

Claiming victory in the 150-mile race from Knik to Rainy Pass was biker Crispin Studer of Canada. He finished in 1 day, 11 hours, 29 minutes.

The leader of the 960-mile race, biker Troy Szczurkowski of Australia, was expected to reach McGrath on Wednesday evening.

Fastest finishes, Knik to McGrath

John Lackey, 2015 — 1 day, 18 hours, 32 minutes

Kevin Breitenbach, 2015 — 1 day, 21 hours, 30 minutes

Andrew Kulmatiski, 2015 — 1 day, 22 hours, 45 minutes

Tim Berntson, 2016 — 1 day, 23 hours, 45 minutes

Tyson Flaharty, 2019 — 1 day, 23 hours, 54 minutes

An earlier version of this story said the race started on Saturday. It started on Sunday.

Beth Bragg

Beth Bragg wrote about sports and other topics for the ADN for more than 35 years, much of it as sports editor. She retired in October 2021. She's contributing coverage of Alaskans involved in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

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