Yukon Quest 2019: Front runners reach halfway point in Dawson City

Alaskan musher Brent Sass and his team were first to arrive in Dawson on Tuesday morning, followed by Yukoner Michelle Phillips.

Musher Brent Sass was first to arrive in Dawson, just before 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday

Brent Sass, seen here in 2017, arrived in Dawson City just before 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday. Mushers must stay in Dawson for at least 36 hours before hitting the trail again. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Yukon Quest mushers started arriving in Dawson City on Tuesday morning, having finished the first half of the gruelling, 1,600-kilometre sled dog race. 

The four leading teams all arrived at the checkpoint within an hour of each other.

"I feel great," said Alaska musher Brent Sass, just after his team trotted into Dawson. Sass — the 2015 Yukon Quest champ — was first to arrive, just before 11:30 a.m.

"I had no intention of being in here first, but here we are," he said, through a moustache caked with ice.

"I went into this race saying I wasn't going to pay attention to anybody around me, just run my race, run my dogs, and that's what we're doing — and we got here first."

Sass ran the Quest for 11 consecutive years, before sitting out last year's race. In 2017, he was also first to reach Dawson but he later scratched from the race because of concern for a couple of his dogs.

The first musher to reach Dawson is traditionally awarded two ounces of Klondike gold, but they must complete the race to Fairbanks, Alaska, in order to claim the prize.

'A lot of good mushers'

Yukoner Michelle Phillips and her team arrived less than half an hour after Sass, shortly followed by Yukoner Hans Gatt, and last year's champ, Allen Moore of Alaska.

"We've been passing back and forth, back and forth for a couple of days now," Moore said. "Who knows how it's gonna play out this time, there's a lot of good mushers."

Moore said so far, his dogs haven't been running as well this year compared to last.

Yukon Quest musher Allen Moore after arriving at the Dawson City checkpoint, Feb. 4, 2019. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

"Last year was the magic carpet ride that we all look for, had nothing go wrong. And this time — a little different," he said. "They're not as peppy as I like them to be."

Moore said he's been most impressed by Phillips's team this year.

"Her dogs were flying," he said.

Phillips is a veteran of the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, though she's never won either race. She called her dogs a "beautiful team," and said things have gone well this year, despite one of her dogs suffering a shoulder injury and having to ride the sled into Dawson.

The mandatory 36-hour stopover in Dawson will let the mushers and dogs re-charge before continuing down the trail to Fairbanks, Alaska.

"I'm gonna take care of my dogs, and have some sleep and something to eat," Phillips said.

Moore was also looking forward to a rest.

"It's always good to come into Dawson, 'cause you know you're getting a warm bed. Maybe even a hot tub," he said.

There are 30 mushers in the 1,600-kilometre race this year. 

With files from Jane Sponagle


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