A 135-mile, 15-hour race across the northern Minnesota wilderness was decided by a single second late Monday night.
In the end, race rookie Jorden Wakeley of Grayling, Mich., won the title at the 2015 Arrowhead 135 endurance race from International Falls to Tower, crossing the finish line at 10 p.m. just a bike-length ahead of Tim Berntsen of Alaska.
Those two were part of a group of about a half-dozen riders who stayed in a pack much of the race; five left the final checkpoint, 25 miles from the finish line, within four minutes of each other.
"I knew it would come down to a sprint finish, so I kept playing in my head how it would happen," Wakeley said of that final leg. "About a mile out (from the finish) I got on (defending champion) Jay Petervary's wheel and sat there. When he went for it, I drafted off him and slingshotted around him."
Wakeley, 24, said he tends to compete in shorter races, and he was ready for that final sprint.
"I put everything into it," he said Tuesday. "I just had a little bit left at the end."
After winning the title, he said, the first thing he did was call his parents to share the good news.
Petervary, of Idaho, finished a second behind Berntsen, and Duluth's Todd McFadden - the 2013 champion and course record-holder - was a few seconds behind Petervary. Kevin Breitenbach of Alaska, the 2012 champion who had been part of the pack out of the final checkpoint, finished fifth, about 10 minutes behind.
Wakeley's winning time was exactly 15 hours, officials reported on the race website. Tracey Petervary, Jay's wife, was the top women's finisher, in 18 hours, 27 minutes.
Riders in the 11th annual race - which also included cross-country skiers and runners - ran just 40 minutes off the course-record pace despite several inches of new snow that coated the 135-mile trail late Sunday into Monday.
McFadden's course record remains 14 hours, 20 minutes.
The new snow - as much as 3 to 5 inches along the route - slowed the leaders down as they had to break trail, Wakeley and McFadden said. And conditions were a bit too warm, McFadden said; the temperature at the start on Monday was 24 above zero - compared to 24 below last year. McFadden said many racers prefer temperatures around zero.
But those obstacles were offset by a few factors. The relatively warm weather meant the leaders didn't need to spend much time at checkpoints tending to frozen water packs and other cold-related concerns. And more importantly, McFadden said, was the high caliber of the field.
"This year, the talent of the racers was significantly stronger than it's ever been," he said, which kept the lead pack pushing hard. "There was not much let-up."
Some Arrowhead competitors, enduring the physical challenge alone, for hours, in the wilderness, tell tales of hallucinations and other tricks of the mind. That wasn't a problem for the leading riders this year, who had plenty of company.
"There were always people to talk to," Wakeley said, and the leaders joked a bit from time to time. But it remained a fierce competition to the end. McFadden said this year's race highlighted how small the margin is between winning the race and finishing back in the pack.
"A race of this length - a 15, 18, 20-hour ride - there are so many things that have to go right" to win, he said. "There's a lot you have to balance out and figure out as you go along. ... One small slip on a hill, and the others will take big advantage of that."
Eighty-four bikers - most of them riding fat-tire bikes - started the race early Monday in International Falls. Fifty-eight had finished, 20 remained on the trail and six had dropped out as of 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Over the past 10 years of the Arrowhead 135, an average of 47 percent of competitors have finished.
- Marcus Berggren of Sweden shattered the Arrowhead 135 course record for runners, crossing the finish line at 5:24 p.m. Tuesday in a time of 34 hours, 20 minutes. That was almost three hours ahead of the previous record of 37:16, set by Duluth's Jason Buffington in 2012. Sixty-six runners started the race; 16 had dropped out and Berggren was the only finisher as of 7 p.m. Tuesday. The race cutoff is 60 hours, or 7 p.m. today.
- Duluth's Steve Schuder won the cross-country ski title, crossing the finish line at 5:53 p.m. Tuesday in a time of 34 hours, 51 minutes. That's about 13 hours off the record pace. Four cross-country skiers started the race and two remained on the course as of 7 p.m. Tuesday.