On her way to a second-place finish Saturday in a 1,056-mile bikepacking race in Kyrgyzstan, Anchorage’s Lael Wilcox encountered high altitude, steep climbs, big valleys, multiple river crossings and stretches of terrain that needed to be hiked, not biked.
She and other riders climbed more than 88,000 feet from start to finish in the off-road Silk Road Mountain Race, which some have called the toughest in the world.
But at least she didn’t encounter any would-be robbers along the way.
Five days into the competition, race leader James Hayden of London was pedaling up a mountain in the dark when two men on horseback allegedly tried to rob him, according to the official race blog and Hayden’s Twitter account. Hayden spent part of the next day talking to police, and nearly a day passed before he was able to resume racing.
Once Hayden lost his position, Jakub Sliacan of Slovakia assumed command to claim the victory. An experienced trail runner, Sliacan was competing in his first ultra bike race.
Sliacan, 30, and Wilcox, 33, both made the journey in less than eight days. Wilcox reportedly rested for a total of 30 hours, while Sliacan, who was battling Hayden for the lead earlier in the week, rested for more than 52 hours, according to the official race blog.
Sliacan finished Saturday in 7 days, 6 hours, 46 minutes. Wilcox, an experienced ultra-biker with an impressive resume, finished second in 7 days, 15 hours, 23 minutes.
Earlier in the week Wilcox had been dueling for third place with Jay Petervary, the defending champion from Minnesota who won last year’s Silk Road Race in 8 days, 8 hours, 15 minutes. Petervary, a three-time winner of the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational, was in third place Saturday but was being pursued by Hayden, who bounced back to surge into fourth place, according to the race blog.
The race started Saturday, Aug. 17, in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. It ends in the resort town of Cholpon Ata. Racers must complete the race by next Saturday to be official finishers.
As of this Saturday, about 50 of the 140 riders who started the race had dropped out. Last year, 93 riders started and 30 finished.
Riders must be self-supported, although they are allowed to enter in pairs. The top riders, including Wilcox, raced solo.
According to the race website, the clock never stops, there are only three checkpoints and there are no prizes. The fixed course “follows gravel, single and double track and old soviet roads that have long been forgotten and fallen into disrepair. There is very little tarmac. There is some walking, and at times there is great distances between resupply points.”