The Stage 2 Shake-Up

The Stage 2 Shake-Up

Alpine, Wyoming

Author: Jake Berkowitz

 

The 2017 Pedigree Stage Stop Race saw a drastic change in the Leaderboard yesterday as teams crossed the finish line in Alpine, Wyoming. Jerry Bath who had been sitting roughly 3 minutes behind Lina Streeper after Stage 1, came blazing across the finish line yesterday, erasing his 3 minute deficit and claiming the lead of the 2017 race. Dave Torgerson, running the Streeper B Team, also had an excellent run in Alpine and was able to claim 2nd place in the leg, followed closely by Lina Streeper (driving the kennel’s A Team). Significantly slower than the front pack of 3 were Bruce Magnusson, Jeff Conn, Dennis Laboda and JR Anderson who posted a time 27 minutes slower than the race leader in Stage 2. Bath and the 2 Streeper teams threw down the gauntlet yesterday and pulled away from the rest of the field. Less than 2 minutes separate the Top 3 teams with Magnusson sitting in a lonely 4th place 14 minutes behind 3rd. Conn and Anderson round out the top 5, 26 minutes behind Bath.

Talking with Mushers this morning on the race’s day off, following the leg in Alpine, it was evident that the race is just getting started and is very far from over. The question remains however, can anyone dethrone the Streeper Kennel who has claimed victories in 6 out of the last 7 years? If history is any indicator, the only team with a shot at this point is Bath. All we need to do is look at last year’s race statistics to see how difficult it is to make up any time on the Leader after Stage 2.

Here are where the competitors were at last year versus this year and where they ended up at the end of the 2016 Race.

Minutes Behind After Stage 2 Minutes Behind After Stage 2 (2016) 2016 Final Standings – Minutes Behind
JERRY BATH 0 46 59
 STREEPER A TEAM 1 0 0
STREEPER B TEAM 2 14 31
BRUCE MAGNUSSON 16 33 57
JEFF CONN 25 33 110
JR ANDERSON 26 39 46

 

Prior to Stage 2, the longest leg in the race, the consensus was that the race will not be won in Alpine, but the race can be lost. Only as the race progresses will we know if the race was lost in Apline, but the question remains, what happened in Alpine that has caused such a gap between the top 3 and the remainder of the field?

A look at potentially 1 reason:

As dog trucks made their way to the starting line in Alpine the thermometers were reading in at -5 with a slight wind that was just enough to send a chill through your body. The forecast however was calling for a significant warm up as the sun rose and would reach +30 by the time the teams would be finishing. Do to the drastic change in temperature that the teams would be facing from the time they left the starting line to the time that they finished, left many Mushers debating 1 major question that could make or break this leg for them: To Boot or Not to Boot?

Like everything in the sport of Dog Mushing, dog booties have evolved over time. Race Marshall Dr. Terry Adkins remembered a time that Mushers would use rawhide to protect the dog’s feet as well as electrical tape to keep them on. Nowadays Mushers have a wide variety of options to choose from when it comes to dog booties – the most used fabric being a Cordura material with Velstretch (a stretch Velcro) attached to keep the booties on the dogs. There are many pros as well as cons when it comes to putting dog booties on and in a race like the Pedigree Stage Stop where races can be won or lost by 1 second (as we saw yesterday in the Eukanuba 8 Dog Classic) mushers must decide if snow conditions warrant booties or if they can get away with no booties which allows the dogs to run a little faster.

Dog booties are used to protect dog’s feet from course and rough snow conditions that can cause cracks or splits (fissures) in the webbing of a dog’s foot. Running a dog with a bad split in its webbing is like running a car with a flat tire – although the car can run, it’s just not running great! The downside to wearing booties is although the Cordura material is designed to let the dog’s feet breathe the bootie does trap in more heat than a dog running “barefoot”. Unlike humans, dogs do not sweat everywhere, dogs expel heat through their feet as well as through their mouth (therefore you will see many Sled Dogs at the finish of a race with their mouths open and tongue out. They are not out of breath, they are simply cooling themselves off). The drastic increase in the temperature during the Alpine Stage perhaps left the Mushers in Catch 22.

At the starting line of yesterday’s race, we saw anything from teams that had every dog with boots on (Magnusson and Anderson), to teams that had a select dogs with booties on (Bath and Conn), to teams with no booties on the entire team (Streeper and Torgerson). When speaking with competitor Anderson, he felt that you couldn’t go wrong with putting booties on the team. Anderson felt that being so early in this competition he wanted to ensure that he went into the final 5 stages with dogs at 100% and he was willing to forfeit some speed for preventative maintenance. Bath, yesterday’s race winner and now overall race leader, had a few selected dogs with booties on (perhaps protecting some feet that were a little more prone to issues), but as a whole, Bath went with no booties on and was confident in his decision, siting his home town knowledge of the snow conditions in these areas as his justification not to bootie.

Time will tell if the decision by Bath and the Streeper teams to run bootless will catch up to them later in the race, or if the teams like Magnusson and Anderson begin to pick away at the lead with their more conservative decisions.

As for now Bath is leading the field of 14 teams going into Stage 3 in his hometown of Lander.

Author: Jake Berkowitz was a long distance musher and one time Fur Rondy competitor. He has run both the Yukon Quest and Iditarod sled dog races. He won the Iditarod Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian award in 2013, and after finishing fourth in the 2012 Yukon Quest he was named Rookie of The Year.

 

 

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