ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The human-powered little brother to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is bulking up its wallet and its field.
Almost 200 people are expected to point mountain bikes, skis, snowshoes or running shoes north from Big Lake in February to chase $80,000 in prize money up the Iditarod Trail to Finger Lake, McGrath and Nome.
There are three different Iditasport races. The shortest is from Big Lake to Finger Lake. The longest goes all the way to Nome. Last year, the purse was $2,500, and the entry fee was $500.
More than 100 racers, including a large contingent of Europeans, have paid their entry fees, Iditasport director Dan Bull said Monday.
Along with putting together a significant purse for the first time, Bull is negotiating with a television network looking for a ''made-for-TV winter-adventure race.
''It's a million-dollar deal,'' said Bull, who declined to reveal the network. ''They're wanting a five-year deal. I'm kind of tossed between selling my soul and going that direction and keeping it the way it is, ... (but) I expect something to be announced here pretty soon.''
Fueled by an international adventure-racing boom, Iditasport 2001 will have a big field and a cosmopolitan air. The United Kingdom alone is sending 25 competitors.
Seven French competitors, four Canadians, two Austrians, two Swiss, a Greek, an Italian, a Japanese, a South African and a resident of Hong Kong also have registered.
Among the 102 entries so far, in fact, Alaskans are a minority. The race's 45 foreigners are joined by 20 Lower 48 racers, including competitors from Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Idaho, New York, California, Washington state, Oregon, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
What draws them?
The adventure, Bull said, and to some degree the danger.
No Iditasport competitor has ever succumbed to the cold, but there have been more than a few close calls. Mike Curiak from Grand Junction, Colo., found himself struggling into a sleeping bag in a storm along the Bering Sea coast and wondering if he'd make it through the night this year.
He did and went on to win the first-ever Iditasport Impossible from Big Lake to Nome in 15 days, 1 hour and 15 minutes -- fast enough to have beaten the canine athletes in five of the first seven Iditarods.
Curiak swore he'd never come back. He expressed a preference to devote the rest of his bike-racing career to desert races. So guess who's back in the field for the Impossible next year? Thirty-two-year-old Mike Curiak.
Curiak decided to defend his title just a couple of weeks ago.
''It was on my mind all summer,'' he said.
He spent a part of that time working on a book about his race last year and trooping around western states screening Iditasport slideshows. Audiences were overwhelmed by the scenery of Alaska, but some of it seemed a bit too much.
''I have a lot of pictures of the blowholes'' along the Bering Sea coast, Curiak said. Those pictures made people visibly shiver, he said.
There's a lot more money at stake this year:
--A $30,000 purse to be split among the top finishers in the Iditasport Impossible to Nome.
--A $20,000 purse to be divided among the top finishers in the Iditasport Extreme to McGrath. And,
--$10,000 to be distributed among the leaders of the Iditasport 130 to Finger Lake.
(Distributed by The Associated Press)
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