Sadler's Alaska Challenge to Showcase State to World Class Athletes

Feb. 23, 2009, 4:17 p.m. (ET)

Challenge Alaska has been working on the 25th Anniversary edition of the Sadler's Alaska Challenge since 2007, and the world's longest wheelchair and handcycle race will showcase a brand new race course, as well as the biggest and most accomplished field the event has ever seen.

What began 25 years ago as a couple of friends pushing their everyday wheelchairs for every brutal mile between Fairbanks and Anchorage has evolved in to one of the most unique - and prestigious sporting events in the World. Sadler's Alaska Challenge is the only handcycling and wheelchair racing competition anywhere that is run in a timed, stage race format, which is why it is known as "the Tour de France" of wheelchair sports. So it's no surprise that this year's event will feature no less than four gold medalists from the Paralympic Games in Beijing. "This is the only race all year where I can really feel like a professional cyclist...there's no way I'd miss it!" said former winner Ernst Van Dyk, fresh off his medal haul in China where he won a Gold in handcycling and a bronze in the wheelchair marathon. Van Dyk will battle American Oz Sanchez, who traded wins with the South African when he trounced the field in the handcycle time trial in Beijing. If that showdown isn't enough for you, the record 39-racer field has plenty of European flair this year, including the unbeatable veteran, Heinz Frei of Switzerland (who won double gold in China), and the invincible Andrea Eskau, yet another owner of the most coveted "bling bling" from the Paralympic Games. Pair that with 10 other European entrants, two-time wheelchair category winner Paul Nunnari of Australia, a slate of top Americans, and 8 Alaskan racers (the most ever!), and you get the race of the century.

There is another star of this year's race however, one that promises to get more attention than any racer: the race course itself. For the first time, organizers have ventured off of the Parks Highway, and have designed a more coastal route. The race will start in Seward on July 20th, and travel north as the participants see new towns like Hope, Girdwood, and Whittier. From Whittier, athletes and crews will travel by the Alaska Marine Highway system to Cordova where they will race one stage, and transport again to Valdez, where the most epic battles in the 25 year history of the race will begin. Participants will tackle the weather and elevation of Thompson pass before two transitional stages on the Richardson and Glenn Highways, and a final stage up Hatcher's Pass for the first-ever mountain top finish of the race. "There's no doubt that this race will be absolutely spectacular...and harrowing!" say race co-directors Heather Plucinski, and Ian Lawless. "We got the green light from Dave Cavitt at Sadler's to really think outside the box for the 25th Anniversary, and we've succeeded in delivering an event that has the entire Paralympic sport community buzzing."

The race will begin in Seward on July 20th, and finish atop Hatcher's Pass on July 26th. For details about the event, including stage profiles, and complete roster of racers,  please visit the event website: