Front Runners Know the Race Has Only Just Begun
Dawson City, YK - A blistering pace has dog teams arriving at the half-way point along the Yukon Quest trail roughly 12 hours ahead of schedule. A reroute the eliminated American summit and 50 miles from the trail has contributed to the speed. The trail is also fast this year, but mushers know the race is only just beginning from here.
For the better part of a decade, Brent Sass has worked at perfecting a winning race strategy. “I feel like I have a dog team that I can run longer miles, that can actually do it," he says. "In the past I’ve been sort of burned by it and that’s not to say that I won’t this time but I think that this dog team is capable of doing what I’ve been wanting to do for the last eight years.”
Sass’s plan seems simple. “Little rest and lots of running is the way that I’m going to be successful and I trained my dogs to do that this year. I did multiple 90 mile runs back to back.”
That’s exactly what he’s done over the last 48 hours. The stretch of trail between Slaven’s Roadhouse Dog Drop and Eagle is roughly 100 miles. Sass ran it in a straight shot with little rest. He repeated the strategy again on the run between Eagle and Dawson City - a route that is also about 100 miles.
But the plan has raised some eyebrows. Hugh Neff says he’s not sure things will work out for Sass. “The rest is the one thing that’s not talked about, but it’s actually a major part of the equation," says Neff. "If you keep cutting back on rest, sooner or later, you’re going to start having dogs in the bag.”
The former Quest Champion says fast dogs aren’t the only way to win a race. Neff struggled to piece a together a competitive team this year. Even so, he still has a game plan. “The only way to beat somebody that’s better than you, is to let them destroy themselves," Neff says. " I’m not going to be out in front of these guys, I’m going to be right behind them and just tag along and see what they do, because this is quite a pace we got going here. Sooner or later, stuff will happen.”
Allen Moore says he can’t think about that 'stuff.' “I try to stick with a plan that I had before you get mentally fatigued," Mooire says, "because then you do kind of crazy things and I know before the race started I had a good thought process. I was determined to stick with it and we’ll see if it pays off. It’s always a gamble, every move you make, it’s just like a chess game.”
And sometimes, says Moore, the chess game’ is tough on the brain “You’re always thinking that way. How’s he thinking? What’s he going to do?" he says.
Moore rolled into Dawson with a smile, second behind Brent Sass. He was pleased with his run from Eagle. "I’ve stuck exactly to what I planned before," he says. "That all went well. I would have liked to have chased many times but I stuck to my plan and didn’t so hopefully it works out for the better.”
As Moore answered questions, Chica, a seven-year old team dog jumped in harness. Moore says he spent the first half of the race trying to conserve energy on his team. “I’m still just holding back a little bit. The race will begin in the next half.”
And Brent Sass is well aware of what’s running behind him. "We’ll see what happens once the race starts when we get into that dead zone between Dawson and Pelly there," says Sass. "We’ll see what their race plane does. Maybe they’re going to start pulling out some long runs and then I have to decide what I’m going to do.” Dogs and mushers are resting for the next 36 hours, before they get hit the trail once again.