Competitors roll across finish line in Fairbanks to Anchorage race

Albor takes 267-mile Ultra Challenge

Posted: Friday, July 27, 2001

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Alejandro Albor was first to cross the finish line Thursday in the Midnight Sun Ultra Challenge wheelchair race after powering his handcycle 267 miles across Alaska.

Albor, 37, of Elk Grove, Calif., finished the race from Fairbanks to Anchorage in 21 hours, 36 minutes and 27 seconds -- 4 minutes and 41 seconds ahead of Scott McNeice, 46, of Saint Petersburg, Fla.

McNeice's training partner, Michel Bond, also of Saint Petersburg, finished third, 15 minutes and 15 seconds behind Albor.

Bond, 34, had a 40-second lead when a flat tire on Day 3 slowed him down and he lost 15 minutes, falling to third and relinquishing the lead.

''I saw the opportunity and I took it,'' said Albor, who finished fifth last year after tumbling down an embankment.

Albor said he races to inspire handicapped children. His legs were amputated when he was 18, after he drove his car into a moving train while trying to commit suicide in California. The suicide attempt came three years after he was smuggled across the Mexican border.

Kimberly Albor Carlson said her husband has come a long way from the town of Tzintmeo where he was born into poverty. Surviving the suicide attempt gave him a passion for living, she said.

''He was born a fighter on a little mat on a dirt floor in the corner of the corn shed,'' she said. ''He doesn't quit.''

Bond, who was paralyzed when hit by a drunk driver while riding a motorcycle, said he thought he could catch Albor.

''I thought I can make up the distance. The hills and wind ate me alive,'' Bond said. ''It is so demeaning to see him pull away.''

Monica Bascio, 31, of Santa Cruz, Calif., finished first in the women's handcycle division with a time of 26 hours, 3 minutes and 39 seconds.

Thomas Gerlach, 37, of Denmark won the men's wheelchair division with a time of 26 hours, 15 minutes and 50 seconds.

''I got some blisters and I feel like my fingers are hurting quite a lot. That made it tough but otherwise I felt pretty good,'' said Gerlach who finished two hours, 50 minutes and 18 seconds ahead of James Lilly of Brookfield, Ill.

Fourteen athletes competed in this year's race -- eight men's handcyclists, three women's handcyclists and three wheelchair racers. The racers competed for $21,000 in prize money which was awarded to the top three finishers in each of the three divisions. The first-place prize was $4,000, second-place $2,000 and third-place $1,000.

Racers liken the Ultra Challenge to their own Tour de France because it is run in stages. Organizers added a handcycle division in 1999 to accommodate the growing popularity of handcycles over wheelchairs.

The course was shortened by 100 miles last year, due to budgetary constraints. The longest stage in the new course is 58.5 miles. Day 1 out of Fairbanks requires a 41-mile climb of more than 1,000 feet.

''It's grueling, physically and mentally,'' said Bascio, who was paralyzed in a skiing accident. ''I enjoy it. I like the rush.''

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