On your mark: Fireweed 400 rolling to town
No big changes for Alaska's largest bicycle race organizers say
Valdez Star file photo
The Fireweed 400 features numerous relays and shorter solo and team races on road to Valdez.
There will be no changes in this year's Fireweed 400, which will be rolling into Valdez this weekend.
Ben Ball has taken over as race director for the event and he is no stranger the race. Before becoming the director, he competed in the race under multiple categories. He's been able to finish the race all but one time.
"I actually dropped for hypothermia at Grizzly Pizza," Ball said in an interview Monday. "I had to hitchhike to Valdez."
The event features a 200-mile course from Sheep Mountain Lodge on the Glenn Highway, hangs a right onto the Richardson – over Thompson Pass - to Valdez. But it also offers other categories and different lengths. Participants can race solo or as a team for 50, 100, 200, or 400 miles. There's also a two-day 300k race. The most popular division is the 200-mile race.
Ball says there no changes to the course or the race rules.
"It's just business as usual", Ball said. "We've had tremendous support from our sponsors and our participants."
The only difference from last year's race is the number of riders. When registration closed on Monday, 650 riders had signed up for the race. That is 100 participants less than last year. Ball doesn't have an exact reason as to why there are fewer riders this year.
Valdez Star file photo
The Fireweed 400 runs from the Sheep Mountain Lodge on the Glenn Highway and down the Richardson Highway to Valdez – and back again. There are also numerous shorter races within the race.
"I think over time there are peaks and valleys over in participation in large events like this," Ball said. "There seems to be more and more competition options for things that are outdoors for organized events like this."
Officials are expecting to have a few more riders enter the event over the next few days. Over 300 riders (solo or team) are have signed up for the 200-mile race. The Fireweed 400 starts with the 2DAY300k and 400-mile races on Friday. The 200-mile races start on Saturday.
For many, this year's event will be bittersweet, as the race continues after the death of it cofounder, Peter Lekisch.
The award ceremony will be held at the Beartooth Theater in Anchorage on Monday, July 14.
Organizers and safety officials typically ask motorists to be extra vigilant of bicyclists when traveling the highways during the race.