Jumping out with the race leaders in the Kluane-Chilkat International Bicycle Relay paid off for solo rider Sean Asquith, who led Haines teams in the 24th running of the ride from Haines Junction, Y.T. to Haines.

He finished 10th overall, with a time of 7:35:41. The two-man team of Ian Parker and Stephen Ball, of Whitehorse, Y.T., won in 7:09:48. Solo rider Jann Gillick of Nanaimo, B.C., finished first among women’s squads, in fifth place overall in 7:09:51.

Asquith, 56, said he stayed with the front pack until Pringle Tower, a climb near the start of stage 4, 52 miles into the race, when he and about 11 others fell off the pace. “A small group of six to eight riders broke away. There was no way I could keep up with them. They were pretty fast.”

Seventeen miles later, at the start of leg 5, Asquith’s pack was down to four riders, who hung together until the airport. He placed third from that group, and seventh among men’s solo riders.

“The first hill (out of Haines Junction) is the key. The front-runners will take that at the maximum. They don’t want to have a lot of other riders (with them) on the flats. They want to thin it out,” Asquith said.

Brandie Stickler, a top women’s rider from Haines, was one of at least two race veterans knocked from the competition by a pile-up about 25 miles into the relay. A strong headwind pushed riders into drafting packs, which can tumble as cyclists huddle together to reduce wind resistance.

“I was on the bottom of the pile when everybody else got up,” Stickler said, estimating that as many as five other riders ran into her. “My wheels were so wobbly there was no way I could go down those big hills on them.”

Stickler skinned her shoulder, bruised her hip and ripped the palms out of her riding gloves. “It pissed me off enough that I’m going to be even more in shape for it next year. It never crossed my mind that I would crash. I actually thought I had a chance at winning it.”

Perennial Haines riders Chip and Heather Lende placed second among mixed, two-person teams with a time of 7:49:43. Heather Lende, riding the event’s last four legs, was part of a pack of about 15 riders who finished together.

Strong headwinds led to unusually large drafting packs, she said. “It was blowing pretty hard up there. People who would normally be in a breakaway position or thought they couldn’t keep up were trying to draft. I averaged 19.3 miles per hour. We were all booking down the highway like a freight train.”

Asquith, riding solo for the second time, is part of the growing popularity of riding solo. Solo riders made up eight of the relay’s 10 fastest teams. “That’s what more people want to do. If you want to compete with your peers, that’s what you do.”

Haines teams finishing the race included: 1) Captain Crunch (Asquith), men’s solo, 7:35:41, 2) Tour da Haines (Lendes), mixed two, 7:49:43, 3) Sister Squared, women’s two, 7:50:02, 4) Gina and the Jets, mixed two, 8:45:31, 5) Sockeye Salmon and the Upstream Cyclists, mixed 8, 8:56:03, 6) Atomic Jellyfish, men’s four, 9:17:52; 7) Flying Pirates, mixed 8, 9:31:31; 8) Blue Skye, women’s solo, 9:39:29; 9) HIF, men’s solo, 10:08:18; 10) Chilkat Chicks, women’s eight, 11:04:52, and 11) Riding Again, mixed 8, 12:24:23.