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  • Tue March 08 2011
  • Posted Mar 9, 2011
Craig Medred Mar 06, 2011 [bikeiowa note: Lance Andre hosts the ultra Triple D Winter Race held each January in Dubuque.] What do you do if you crash on ice and break your leg just miles into North America's most dangerous bike race, a 350-mile trek across uninhabited Alaska wilderness? Hop up and keep pedaling. And what do you do if a couple hundred miles into that race -- on a ski slope of an Iditarod Trail ice rink long ago nicknamed "The Glacier'' -- you go down again, breaking your arm and this time displacing the fracture in your leg? Well, of course, you hop back on the bike and ride, because now you really don't have much choice with the temperature at 20 degrees below zero and the nearest help more than 50 miles away. The choices then are simple: You can either start pedaling to stay warm or wait for rescue and hope you don't die of hypothermia first. "After the glacier fall, I couldn't walk,'' cyclist Lance Andre said by telephone from a hospital in Dubuque, Iowa on Saturday. "But I was able to ride." So he did -- all the way to the finish line in McGrath about 100 miles on. Andre could have stopped in the village of Nikolai to get evacuated back to Anchorage by airplane, but by then he figured what the hell. The pain was only bad, not severe. He'd paid a lot of money to enter the race and fly to Alaska. And there was reported to be 50 miles of good, firm trail that could be ridden all the way to the finish line. "After two years of preparing for this race,'' Andre said, "failure was not an option.'' And so Andre rode to the end, finished in 8th place in just a little over four days, and finally got off the bike. Former Anchorage endurance cyclist Peter Basinger, who now lives and teaches in McGrath, won the race in a time of 3 days, 6 hours and 30 minutes. About 16 competetors were still on the trail on Sunday, about half headed to Nome. Basinger won the admiration of 49 other Invitational cyclists, skier and hikers (the event is open to all muscle-powered athletes who can make their north along the Iditarod Trail in any style they wish) and a growing group of Invitational fans. There is no other prize. Andre, a successful businessman who splits his time between homes in Iowa and Alabama when not adventuring in Alaska, got as his reward an examination by the local health aide and help getting onto an airplane for a series of flights back to Dubuque, where he went straight to the hospital. "They're determining whether they'll have to put pins in my left leg or not,'' he said. The arm should simply require a cast, though doctors might have to re-break it before setting it because it has started to heal in place. "It's crooked,'' Andre said. "It has about a 10 degree kink in it.'' Despite this, he seemed in good spirits, having finally completed the Invitational. The way in which he did it would seem to merit a little special consideration, but he won't get any. Unlike the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which is now heading north along the trail on which the cyclists just finished, the "people'' race lacks special awards for competitors providing "inspiration" or "sportsmanship.'' Alaska Native Medical Center If the Invitational did give out special honors, Andre would clearly -- hands down -- win the good, old-fashioned Tough Guy Award. Kathi Merchant in Chickaloon, who organizes the Invitational along with husband, Bill, and a woman who has herself ridden a bike along the Iditarod Trail for 900 miles to Nome, could only marvel at Andre's determination. "Lance is one tough guy,'' she said. Andre himself dismisses toughness and credits bullheadedness. Once the race was over, he confessed, struggling onto an airplane "brought me to tears. I was needing to walk a lot more to get around, and I just couldn't do it.'' It was different on the bike, though. Then he was a man on a mission. After all the time and trouble he spent first earning his way into the Invitational field and then training to pedal to McGrath, he said, "I had way too much invested to stop if I could still move forward.'' Andre first came to Alaska in 2010 to do the Susitna 100, another wilderness race, and try to prove his mettle on the wild trails of Alaska. Unlike the Iditarod sled dog race, which requires mushers to complete qualifying events before they can compete, or the Iron Dog snowmachine race, which requires competitors to race in teams of two for safety, the Invitational has a far simpler system for determining whether competitors can take care of themselves well enough in the Alaska wilderness to survive to the finish line. The system is this: Bill Merchant rules like an overlord. One doesn't really enter the Invitational so much as meet his standards in order to get invited. Despite that, the popularity of the event is growing so fast there was at one point last year a waiting list of more than 20 people wanting to get into the limited field of 50. The Invitational, Andre said, is one amazing challenge even without the broken leg or the broken arm or, oh yeah, the concussion. "I hit my head pretty good the first time I went down,'' Andre said. "I was a little blurry there. I had a pretty good little concussion, and my arm was numb. "It was just one of those things. I got back on the bike, and I was still with the lead group. So I kept going.'' He didn't really pay much attention to the leg until after a few hours sleep. He woke to find the appendage hugely swollen and discolored. He took a massive dose of ibuprofen, which a lot of adventure racers eat like candy to minimize the predictable inflammations that come from abusing one's body. "Ibuprofen is your friend,'' Andre said, as is rest. He plans to get some of that now. There isn't much choice with an arm and a leg in a cast, but Andre said what is really bothering him is the leg he didn't break. "My right knee is sore from compensating so much,'' he said. "I was limping in on half a body." Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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