—The Empire Strikes Back—
The plot thickens as reigning 5 time champion Anny Malo reclaims a significant portion of the time that race rookie Remy Coste put up during yesterday’s opening stage. What wasn’t a surprise was Malo’s run, which was at the exact same pace as yesterday’s stage (15.6 mph) despite much warmer weather and presumably softer trail conditions. It has been much to my chagrin as a competitor of Marco Anny Rivest at times, but that dog team can move at 15.5 mph through anything, forever. What was a bit of a shock to some race fans was Coste’s second act. Despite setting a blistering early pace and catching, he was unable to repeat his prior day’s performance. Malo managed to put a significant distance between herself and the French competitor in the last half of the race. 2 minutes and 12 seconds separates her from Coste, who is still leading the overall race, but by a much slimmer margin than 24 hours ago. Running a small, rested, and capable string has many advantages, but a much slimmer margin for error, as needing to load a dog, as Coste did, has much bigger implications for the rest of the run and the rest of the team.
It is still early, and as we have seen, anything can happen. What’s notable is that the Rivest-Malo camp didn’t take the bait and attempt to match Coste’s pace. Coste was likely attempting to force an error out of the former champion by making them abandon their typical game plan and race strategy. What remains to be seen is if Coste will reassess his strategy of resting half his team each day. We may have seen a chink in the armor of what was a revolutionary attempt at utilizing the 16-dog pool in a never before seen way. If she’s going to pull off another win, Malo will need to have the stage set for her closing moves in the next 3 days, as a unique element of the Pedigree Stage Stop is that there are 5 stages run in a row then a rest day before the final 2 stages. The rest day will allow for the Coste camp to reset for a strong finish to the race. We do know that Coste has 8 dogs that rested today. Will he run a fresh 8 tomorrow or begin blending his teams in an attempt to widen his lead? The 8 dogs that ran yesterday were impressive, to say the least, and it will be interesting to see if they can pull off a repeat performance. The Yellow Bib will be turned over and Malo will start last, putting her in the drivers seat for tomorrows run, a familiar and comfortable place.
There is also an incredible race happening in 3rd-5th with less than 1 minute separating the three mushers in the overall standings! Michael Tetzner will have his work cut out for him to fend off Laura Bontrager and Cathy Rivest who have been using their pools more conservatively and have a larger group of rested dogs to utilize in the coming days. All three teams had very nice runs and are setting themselves up for a few days of tight racing. It will be exciting to see how their race strategies unfold!
Tomorrows stage, held near Pinedale, will be the longest leg yet at 34 miles. Warm weather will set the stage for a ‘slug fest’, where the capability to maintain an even pace throughout the run despite conditions getting tougher with each passing minute will likely prevail. Like many other race fans, I cannot wait to see what happens! The historically toughest stages with the most climbing are yet to come. Will experience and knowledge prevail over the force of nature that Coste Racedog is proving that they can be? Stay tuned.
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