Although one winner has already reached the arch in Nome, the next round of overnight finishes in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race had the potential to be even more exciting and unpredictable.
Intense windstorms along the Norton Sound shoreline around Shaktoolik scrambled the leaderboard on Monday morning and bunched up the race chasers. Now, they’re close enough to each other that sprints to the finish line look likely on Tuesday night.
A long string of top-tier crews encountered daunting enough conditions near Shaktoolik on Sunday night and early Monday that they pulled over, trying to wait out the 50mph headwinds that swept across the icy trail. north along the coast of Norton Sound.
“It was blowing pretty good when we got there,” 2019 champion Pete Kaiser of Bethel told Iditarod Insider in Koyuk on Monday afternoon.
“Interesting bubble of mushers here, fighting for somewhere between third and… not sure where,” Kaiser said.
[Brent Sass holds off Dallas Seavey to seize his first Iditarod victory]
As the first mushers spent 11 hours waiting for the gales to pass, the teams running a few places behind began to catch up on the journey north from Unalakleet.
Further down the trail, as Eureka’s Brent Sass sped to victory at Nome with Talkeetna’s Dallas Seavey hot on his heels, the rest of the competitive field curled into a ball that shook the race standings and promised a night of pursuit racing. of places to go.
Or, as Nome/Nenana’s Aaron Burmeister put it to Insider: “Now we’re competing with 15 teams for 3rd place.”
Final standing is more than just bragging rights. Every place a runner can move up the leaderboard brings with them thousands of dollars more in race purse money, which, as any musher will tell you, will buy many bags of dog food.
Of the six teams that arrived at White Mountain for their mandatory eight-hour breaks early Tuesday morning, after Sass and Seavey left long ago, there were three close races between pairs of mushers.
Brushkana’s Jessie Holmes left White Mountain at 11:35 am, 16 minutes before Chatanika’s Dan Kaduce. They will be competing for third place. Holmes has nine dogs and was one of the mushers held captive in Shaktoolik for more than 10 hours trying to wait out the wind storm. Kaduce, who completed three Iditarods and finished 16th, still has 14 dogs from him and has posted some of the fastest race times along the coast.
Competing for fifth and sixth place are Richie Diehl and Kaiser de Aniak. They are longtime friends, both from the Yukon-Kuskokwim region and both won the Kuskokwim 300, Bush Alaska’s premier middle-distance race. Diehl left White Mountain at 12:50 pm with an 11-minute lead, and as of Tuesday afternoon he and Kaiser were racing neck and neck according to the Iditarod’s GPS tracker.
In the race for seventh place are experienced musher Aaron Burmeister of Nome/Nenana and newcomer Chad Stoddard of Anchorage. Burmeister left at 13:57 with a 21-minute lead. Not only has he completed 20 previous Iditarods, he also grew up in the Bering Strait region and knows the coastal route to Nome better than almost any other musher in the field.
Stoddard finished last year’s altered Iditarod route on the Gold Loop Trail in 23rd place as a rookie, so he hasn’t ridden up the coast to Nome during the previous race. While Burmeister’s lead is solid, Stoddard is handling some of the best dogs in the Seavey kennel and has put in an impressive performance throughout the race, clocking hundreds of miles on a broken sled. (He is now on a sled loaned by Seward’s musher, Travis Beals.)
Just 4 miles behind Stoddard, as of Tuesday afternoon, was Knik’s Ryan Redington.
Mushers vying for the top positions could start arriving on Front Street as early as 8:00 pm Tuesday. Runners are likely to continue to arrive late at night and throughout Wednesday morning.