By Gerry Willomitzer
As you can see from the race stats the leaders have now left Two Rivers. Hugh Neff came into Twin Bears first, followed by Sebastian Schnuelle 1h 25m later, and Jon Little 2h 22m behind Hugh.
Factoring in the two-hour penalty Hugh has to serve on top of the mandatory eight hour rest the mushers left in this order:
Schnuelle: 5:02 - Neff: 5:37 - Little: 5:57
Comparing run times
Hugh Neff had the fastest time of the three into Two Rivers, with a time of 10h 37m he was 25 minutes faster than Sebastian and 1h 47m faster than Jon Little. If the mushers keep their respective speeds up Hugh would close in on Sebastian, but will the short 45-mile run to the finish provide enough time to close a gap? I doubt it, but it could be tight. I also don’t think Hugh’s 10-hour break will benefit the team much more than a standard 8-hour rest.
Jon Little posted the slowest time into Two Rivers, probably due to his very short rest at Central. But how will his team look after the eight hour mandatory rest? While Hugh always travels slow Jon is known for having very fast teams. Maybe the eight hour break can rejuvenate his dogs to the point where they actually can gain ground on Hugh? He is only 25 minutes behind him, a gap that could be closed on a 45-mile run.
This wouldn’t be the Yukon Quest if there wasn’t another variable ahead. A maze of dog mushing trails criss-crosses the forests in Two Rivers. There are countless sled tracks and even more trail markers for all different trails in all shapes and sizes. Some folks use old Yukon Quest trail markers to mark their trails. Mushers have gotten lost here before. Dawson City musher Cor Guimond dropped from 8th to 11th place during the 2001 race in this area with the finish line only a few hours away. In addition to the marker issue the Yukon Quest trail takes a different route this year, eliminating the North Pole dog drop. Mushers will likely not be familiar with the new route until they hit the Chena River and will have to watch the trail closely.
I predict the winner of the 2009 Yukon Quest to cross the finish line in downtown Fairbanks as early as 10:30 AM, but probably between 11:00 and 11:30 AM. Somehow I have the feeling he has a German accent….
Behind the Frontrunners
Meanwhile Martin Buser crossed Eagle Summit in a fast run of 4h 42m and went through Mile 101 dog drop a little over two hours behind William. Will he be closing in on William by the time they reach Two Rivers? Over 2 hours is a lot of time, but the possibility is not out of this world.
In a rare move Dan Kaduce went through Central at 3:30 PM without dropping a dog. He took over 13 hours from Circle to Central with his speedy team, so I assume he camped on the way. I speculate that he might camp outside of Central at the base of Eagle Summit in an attempt to shorten the 115-mile run from central to Two Rivers. Or maybe his intention is to take his team over the Summit during daylight and then rest them in 101? By moving the last checkpoint to Two Rivers, thus extending the run from Central to the mandatory eight hour layover to 115 miles, the Yukon Quest demands new approaches for this trail section from the mushers. This one makes a lot of sense and we will see how successful Dan will be with it. It requires a campout on Birch Creek between Circle and Central however, which can be very taxing in cold years.
Michelle Phillips and Warren Palfrey left Central together about one hour behind Dan. So these three are close together. Can Dan run away from them? It seems he has the speed to do so. A huge gap separates these teams from the teams behind them as no one had left Circle when Michelle and Warren left Central. So for a few hours there was no team on the trail between Circle and Central.
Hugh Neff has been reported into Two Rivers at 7:37 PM. After his mandatory eight hour layover plus his two-hour penalty he can leave at 5:37 AM, and should cross the finish line between 11 AM and noon. He is the first and only musher into Two Rivers as of 9 PM AKST. Any musher who arrives within two hours of him will be able to leave ahead of Hugh due to his penalty.
The run from Two Rivers to the finish line is with a length of 45 miles relatively short. Mushers will not be able to make up too much time on fellow competitors on this run.