John Bursell, front, and Jamie Bursell, in white, lead a pack of riders in the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay on the Haines Highway between Haines Junction, Yukon, and Haines on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Jamie and John Bursell finished just five seconds apart from one another in the solo division, completing the 148-mile race in under 11 hours. (Courtesy Photo | Rob Welton)

John Bursell, front, and Jamie Bursell, in white, lead a pack of riders in the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay on the Haines Highway between Haines Junction, Yukon, and Haines on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Jamie and John Bursell finished just five seconds apart from one another in the solo division, completing the 148-mile race in under 11 hours. (Courtesy Photo | Rob Welton)

This Juneau man engineered a top-four finish at the Kluane Relay

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A 31-year-old Juneau engineer came within several hundred feet of winning an international bike relay on Saturday in Haines.

Will Coleman, a Fairbanks native, finished just 22 seconds back of winner Matthias Purdon in the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay, a 148-mile, eight-leg relay on the Haines Highway. Coleman, one of approximately 70 solo riders, completed the ride in 7 hours, 25 minutes, 56 seconds. Purdon, of Whitehorse, finished in 7:25:34.

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“I thought it was great race — I met all my goals, I finished with the lead group,” Coleman said by phone Tuesday morning. “Going up Million Dollar Falls Hill about 40 miles into the race, I was able to stick with the leaders and actually I was leading the group going up the climb. So I was really happy about that.”

Juneau Freewheelers President Dave Ringle, who competed on a three-person team, said the cycling event was marked with an exceedingly positive atmosphere.

“Everybody was in good spirits,” Ringle said. “The weather, there was the usual moderately stiff headwind, but nowhere near as bad as last year and (it was) not snowing. Only the latest teams got rained on, so people had a great time. I think people appreciate the beauty and (were) just the amazed at how many people show up for this. It was interesting to see that side of the race that I sort of take for granted having done it for 23 years.”

Juneau had just under 20 teams in the competition, including 12 between the solo and four-person categories. Around 300 teams competed overall.

Amber Falcon of Juneau tries to stay dry on Leg 6 of the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Falcon, a teacher with the Juneau School District, teamed up with Ivan Falcon and Dave Ringle to form the three-person team, “Two Falcons and a Wolverine.” The team of three finished the 148-mile relay in just under 13 hours. (Courtesy Photo | Dave Ringle)

Amber Falcon of Juneau tries to stay dry on Leg 6 of the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Falcon, a teacher with the Juneau School District, teamed up with Ivan Falcon and Dave Ringle to form the three-person team, “Two Falcons and a Wolverine.” The team of three finished the 148-mile relay in just under 13 hours. (Courtesy Photo | Dave Ringle)

Coleman said his race came down to the final mile, when his pack of cyclists encountered a small gravel section.

“I was a little bit tentative going through it, me and Tyson Flaharty of Fairbanks,” Coleman said. “So (Purdon and runner-up finisher David Gonda) got a little bit of jump on us there and they kept it all the way through the finish.”

Coleman said his race strategy included having a strong go on the inclines.

“I tried to not spend too much energy pulling the entire group on the flat sections because the race ultimately comes down to that Million Dollar Falls climb,” Coleman said. “That’s where the group usually blows apart and you got to save energy for that portion, you have to be feeling good right there and if you’re not, you’re going to get dropped really hard.”

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Black Dolphin was the second-fastest Juneau team behind Coleman. The four-person squad of Rob Swanson, Eliza Dorn, Justin Dorn and Hiram Henry crossed the finish line in 8:09:54, second overall in the four-person category.

The first leg is the shortest at just under 12 miles, beginning at the Dezadeash River Bridge in Haines Junction and ending just before Kathleen Lake. The teams enter the United States on the seventh leg, the second longest at 23 miles. The sixth leg begins the descent into Haines, dropping over 2,000 feet over a short stretch.

The Juneau Freewheelers will host the second annual Eagle Beach Bike Relay next Saturday. The four-leg relay of 59 miles begins at 1 p.m. at the Eagle Beach State Recreation Area. Entrants can sign up for solo, two-person and four-person categories. Pre-registration will be available at Cycle Alaska at 1107 W. 8th St.


• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nainsworth@juneauempire.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.


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