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02-12-20 AM Yukon Quest Update

02-12-20 AM Quest Update:

Brent Sass arrives at the finish line in Whitehorse at around 3 o'clock His hair is wet and he pushes with a ski pole in his right hand all the way across the line. The athletic 40-year-old says he's spent most of the last stretch of racing pushing and kicking with all his might. His clothes look like they're drenched through with sweat.

“I think I'm probably just gonna throw these clothes away. I've been living in my sweat - I did burn my boots, I'm ready to burn these, yeah, It was one of those deals where with all the trail breaking stuff I had to make sure that I did a lot of work to help the dogs. I love it and it's all part of the deal, but I'm feeling it,” he said.

Sass says he's broken more trail in this Quest than he has in any other Quest that he's done, beginning on the snow-drifted Yukon River. His team was clearly hungry at the finish scarfing down beef snacks and waiting attentively for second helpings, but he says a conservative rest schedule coming out of Dawson city gave his the dogs some strength coming into the final two hundred miles.

"We ran different schedules leaving Dawson and mine was definitely a more conservative one - it was a risk to give her an edge: she only camped twice across that big stretch and we camped three times with 5-hour rests, but it was that rest that we banked that gave us the edge in the end I think."

While Michelle Philips, his prime competitor throughout the race, seemed to have an advantage in the last 200 miles, Sass overtook her at one of her stops and used a tested tactic to make sure he could gauge her.

"I was sitting on Mandanna lake, I was sitting out waiting for her trying to squeeze out every last bit of rest and when I saw her headlamp you know, I started my cooker up and made my last wet snack and bootied the dogs quick and she went by and i bootied the last four dogs and I left 10 minutes after her and within 10 or 15 minutes I caught her an passed her and just kind of left her in the dust at that point," he said.

He said after that, he didn't look back and had gained an important psychological edge. "I was pretty confident that we had the speed at that point, and I wasn't gonna stop kicking and poling and she came in with a trail marker, That looks good but that doesn't do anything for you."

During the last run, Sass put another three hours into Phillips, who pulled into Whitehorse around 7 p.m. If anything, cheers for the Yukoner were even louder than they were for the race winner. Phillips thanked her dogs and gave hugs to family and friends in the finish chute, including to her husband Ed Hopkins. When asked whether she was happy to improve on her previous best finish of 4th place, she said she was.

"I'm happy that I beat my husband - his best finish is third, so that's important,” she said. Still, she said she wanted to win, not just for herself. “I wanted to do well for the Yukon, I wanted to win, I wanted to win for women, but you know, I tried (cheers) I tried my hardest,” she said.

Phillips said that a few things kept her from fighting with Sass until the end. The first was a minor equipment issue.

“I lost my ski pole before Pelly somewhere in the - I don't know, lost it somewhere and when we were in the Chain Lakes he pulled out his ski pole and he started poling and it was really a time that you needed a ski pole, it was a time when you could really just push your team through that snow and I think that made a big difference,” she said.

And then there was the run into Whitehorse. Instead of pushing through in one monster 15-hour run as Sass did, Phillips stopped to feed her dogs, and even take a quick nap.

"It was too long of a run and the conditions were too slow so I just had to do what was right for my dogs, so that's what I did,” she said.

This year was all about Sass though. He said that after his shower and eating, he's got something else on his mind: the Iditarod. He says he has his team pretty much picked out.

"The dogs really proved they got what it takes," he said.

But Phillips pointed out that she will be at Iditarod too, and she’s looking for some redemption. ###

Dan has been in public radio news in Alaska since 1993. He’s worked as a reporter, newscaster and talk show host at stations in McGrath, Valdez and Fairbanks. Dan’s experience includes coverage of a wide range of topics, from wolf control to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and dog mushing.