Are There Any Moves Left?
By: Jake Berkowitz
Today’s stage in Kemmerer left mushers with blue bird skies and sunshine, that left many spectators milling about in nothing more than a sweatshirt. What has been becoming a trend in this year’s race, Lina Streeper was able to hold off her fellow competitors and claim the Yellow Bib once again. However, unlike the last 2 stages, Streeper was not the first team to cross the finish line. Jerry Bath, the only Musher to take away Streeper’s Yellow Bib so far, was able to cruise across the finish line today leading the pack of 14 mushers in. Although Bath was the first team to arrive, he posted the 4th fastest time in the stage and cut the gap on JR Anderson (currently in 4th place overall) to only 1 minute going into the final stage tomorrow. The ever-steady Magnusson once again posted an excellent run and after 3 straight stages of the Streepers being 1 and 2 for the day, Magnusson was able to pry the two apart to take 2nd in today’s leg, besting Dave Torgerson by only 1 second.
Although the overall standings have not changed much since yesterday, we have seen a couple changes and a couple races within the race tighten up drastically. Dennis Laboda, with three consecutive days of faster runs, has picked off Jeff Conn for 6th place. Alex Crittenden, with another nice run is now breathing down Conn’s neck for 7th. Crittenden has been steadily climbing since the start and the last 3 stages has posted faster times than Conn as well. Although Crittenden is still 12 minutes back, expect her to pull out all the stops tomorrow in an effort to chase down 7th.
In today’s stage, we began to see different strategies play out. Some have played out better than others, but what if anything can be done in the final leg to get an edge over the other teams?
Throughout the race we have been watching Mushers play around with different team sizes. So far, the smallest dog team to be run was 9 dogs and the largest was 12 (the maximum allowed). Going in to the last stage, the Mushers only have one last shot to try to real in the competition. The best-case scenario for a team is to hook up their best 12 dogs and make a run for it. However, there are a couple reasons why a Musher might not be hooking up 12 dogs in the final stage:
- A team might only have so many dogs in there 16 dog pool that can run at the team’s top end speed. As the saying goes, “you are only as fast as your slowest dog”, so tomorrow Mushers will need to take only the best and if they only have 9 dogs that can run the type of speed needed – those are the 9 dogs that will run.
- No question mark dogs! Dogs, just like humans need some rest and recovery days and if a dog is not 100% it shouldn’t be going. If a Musher must load a dog in the sled it will be very unlikely that they will make up any time on the other teams. Many Mushers believe that races are not won by the dogs that are taken, but by the dogs that are left behind.
Although we haven’t seen many sled changes throughout the race (there are no rules dictating how many sleds a Musher could use throughout the 7 stages) Crittenden, who was only running 9 dogs today, elected to go for a smaller sled and brought out the smallest model Danler. Crittenden, who has learned from mistakes early, decided to leave some dogs back today and after a few runs where she had to carry a dog, she came in today with all dogs on the line and a small sled that I’m sure her 9 dog team enjoyed pulling around.
In addition to taking smaller sleds, look for Mushers to start shedding weight: extra snowhooks, clothing, and pretty much anything but the mandatory gear will be left in the truck. Mushers will also have to have their sled wax and plastic dialed in perfectly. With tomorrows forecast calling for warm and sunny in Evanston, a wrong choice could leave Mushers gliding effortlessly or feeling like their sled is running on sand paper.
The race will be decided tomorrow and we wish everyone the best of luck in tomorrow’s final stage in Uinta County/Evanston!
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.