For the first time this year, the legendary Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI),­­ an intimidating human­-powered chase along a historic Alaska mail route from Knik to Nome ­­kicks off in Anchorage. The 70 ITI competitors from around the globe will converge on the state’s largest city for the inaugural Fat Bike Expo, Feb. 26 and 27. Some ITI riders are likely to choose to participate in the Big Fat Ride in downtown Anchorage on Saturday the 27th. Sponsors of the Big Fat Ride hope to set a world ­record for the number of fat bike riders in an organized event. The birthplace of the modern fat­ tire bike, Anchorage has seen an explosion in the number of such cycles as fat has gone mainstream in recent years. “We need at least 1,000 riders to get the record,” said Expo organizer Kathi Merchant, “but we’re hoping for significantly more.” The Expo ­­which brings fat ­bike manufacturers, equipment suppliers and trip organizers to Anchorage for the first time, opens in the LePerouse Hall of the Egan Center downtown on Friday at 10:00 a.m. and runs through Saturday. It is free to the public. A full schedule of events can be found here:­schedule/ The Big Fat Ride leaves the intersection of W. Second Ave and Christensen Drive downtown on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. An easy, 5­ mile, round­ trip ride to Westchester Lagoon and back. The event has partnered with Anchorage Fur Rendezvous as part of the city’s annual celebration of winter. There will be a Fat Ride cheering station at the Lagoon with hot drinks sponsored by Lululemon. Along with getting a chance to set a world record, registered participants in the ride get tickets for free beer provided by Broken Tooth Brewery at the Expo. To register for the ride, go to:­fat­ride/ The brave crew of 70 ITI racers preparing to take on the challenge of the Alaskan wilderness will be at the Expo from 3 to 4 p.m. Friday for a meet and greet. The ITI is made of three races. A­­ 130 ­mile race in the Susitna Valley for those relatively new to Alaska, a 350 ­mile race over the Alaska Range to McGrath for those with the courage and demonstrated skills to take on serious Alaska wilderness in winter, and the intimidating, almost scary, 1,000 miles to Nome for only the hardiest of the hardy and the fittest of the fit. The ITI race draws the most diverse crowd of any Iditarod Trail competition. Racers this year represent thirteen nationalities and a dozen different states. Forty-one racers are bound for McGrath. Fourteen of the entrants are women. All of the entrants are allowed to pick their own means of human­ powered travel along the trail. One is a skier. Fewer than 20, including defending 350 ­mile champion and legendary Alaska ultrarunner David Johnston from Willow, will be on foot. The majority are on fat bikes, which have made a reputation for themselves as the fastest means of travel along the Iditarod Trail short of a snow machine. Last year, Anchorage’s John Lackey pedaled to McGrath in a time so fast it embarrassed the dog teams in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Lackey isn’t coming back to defend his mark of one day 18 hours, 32 minutes  -­­ eight hours better than the best ever by the dogs. But the race still boasts a strong field of fat ­bike cyclists, including several past champs. How fast they’ll make it to McGrath will depend, as it always does, on the weather. Lackey started on a hard­-packed snow machine trail last year and never slowed down. Some previous races have bogged down participants in fresh snow that forced bikers to sometimes push their bikes for days. The serious action begins at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 28 when competitors boldly leave the Knik Bar to set off into the wilderness. Spectators are welcome.

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