Almost 10 days after he started out, Sebastian Schnuelle of Whitehorse has won the 26th annual Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, narrowly beating fellow Yukoner Hugh Neff at the finish line in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Tuesday morning.
Schnuelle, 38, completed the 1,600-kilometre race through the Yukon and Alaska in nine days, 23 hours and 20 minutes.
Arriving in Fairbanks at 10:44 a.m. Alaska time, or 11:44 a.m. PT, Schnuelle edged out Neff, who also lives in the Whitehorse area, by only four minutes.
The tight race between Schnuelle and Neff made for an exciting photo finish, according to four-time Quest champion Lance Mackey, who watched from the sidelines this year.
"Probably the closest in history," Mackey told CBC News from the finish line Tuesday.
"Both of them looked very content — but a little weathered, of course."
Jon Little of Alaska came in third, arriving in Fairbanks at 11:52 a.m. Alaska time (12:52 p.m. PT).
Fellow Alaskan Brent Sass of Fairbanks was en route to the finish line, having left the final checkpoint in Two Rivers at 11:01 a.m.
Lead mushers 'kept in suspense'
Neff led the pack coming into Two Rivers checkpoint Monday evening, but he had to serve a two-hour penalty there for veering off the trail earlier in the race.
Yukon Quest spokeswoman Julie Estey, a former musher herself, told CBC News that Neff tried his best to make up the difference before the finish line in Fairbanks.
"It's 45 miles [about 72 kilometres], and most of the experts said there's no way that that kind of time could be caught up. But Hugh was on a mission. He was working all the way into the finish line," Estey said at the finish line Tuesday.
"Sebastian suspected that he was behind him, but neither one of the mushers saw one another on the Chena River, which has a lot of bends in it. So they were both kept in suspense. Sebastian didn't know how close he was, and he said he was glad he didn't."
Schnuelle becomes the first new Yukon Quest winner in four years. Mackey decided not to compete this year, opting instead to focus on the Iditarod race, which starts March 7.
"I wish I was a part of it, but you can't run them all," he said. "It's a little difficult, you know, standing on the river instead of running down it. You hear the crowd going off."
A total 22 out of 29 mushers who started the race Feb. 14 in Whitehorse were still on the course early Tuesday.