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Iditarod cyclist unfazed by near-fatal experience

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What doesn't kill you might not make you stronger, but in Lindsay Gauld's case, it made him smarter.

After nearly succumbing to the bone-chilling, blinding conditions of last winter's Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska, the former Olympic cyclist from Winnipeg is back in training to give the hardest race he's ever done another go.

His goal this year is just to finish the gruelling 1,609-kilometre trek. Last year, he admits he got a little too caught up in racing. Just before he was forced to pull out, he knew he was in 12th place and there were six competitors in front of him, all of them experienced runners, not cyclists.

"Over the next pass, there was no fresh snow, so I thought I would be able to ride the last 120 miles (193 km) and I'd catch them all. I thought I could come in sixth," he said. "I try to tell myself to think about the journey and not the destination, but I think I got thinking about the destination too much."

Inclement weather meant Gauld had to push his bike for nearly 300 kilometres. With his hands numb from pushing, he didn't realize they were frostbitten, just like his nose and part of his face. Doctors were initially worried they might have to amputate, but after the skin went black and peeled a couple of times, he's almost as good as new. A couple of his fingers are still a little sensitive to cold, though.

He took a few weeks off to heal. He admitted to getting some odd looks during one of the warmest Marches on record when he was walking around wearing mitts and a neck tube over his face when it was nearly 20 C. He was back working as a bike courier after a couple of months.

Next February, having participated in the Iditarod once, he figures he'll be in much better shape mentally because he'll know the route and where to get food.

Last year, he got lost and was off course more than three hours before some snowmobilers came upon him and turned him around. He has installed an insulated piece for his hands to slip into when on his handlebars.

His spirits were buoyed by his performance in a mountain-bike race a couple of weeks ago in Grand Forks. Competing against men half his age or less, he not only finished, but finished first. Racers had 12 hours to complete as many laps of the 16-km course as possible. Although some cyclists were completing laps on Gauld with minutes to spare, he barely stopped the entire time.

"Each lap, (his two closest competitors) would stop and get water. I stopped for 18 minutes the whole thing, so I ended up a lap ahead of them. Whenever you stop, you're losing ground. If you can just find a pace, you can keep going, even if it's a little slower. In the long run, you're further ahead," he said.

His two closest competitors raised their arms in triumph when they crossed the finish line, not realizing they were second and third.

"I knew I was in the lead when I finished the 10th lap. I asked (a race official) how many people had finished 10 laps, and she said, 'nobody, except you,' " he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

He could hit a million km in January

BEFORE Lindsay Gauld returns to Alaska, he expects he'll have reached a remarkable milestone -- a million kilometres on his bike.

He's currently sitting slightly more than 5,000 away and assuming he keeps up his pace of about 600 km per week, he'll hit seven digits in late January.

If you're not a numbers person, the 64-year-old has essentially gone to the moon and back and then nearly back to the moon again. "It's just an interesting mark. I'm not going to stop then," he said.

He's gone through more than 60 bicycles along the way.

Gauld said he has read about a couple of British cyclists who have surpassed the million-kilometre milestone already. "They'd have to be even more obsessive than I am," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2012 A8

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