The 2019 Iditarod turned into a very competitive race over the weekend with the top mushers and their sled dog teams closing up ranks as they turn toward the finish line. The leaderboard has gotten considerably tighter since we checked in last Friday and it looks like the final days of the “Last Great Race” are going to be some exciting ones. At the start of its second week, there is still plenty of racing to be done, although the leaders now have Nome in their sights and should reach the finish line in matter of just a couple of days.
As I write this, Nicolas Petit sits at the front of the race, out of the Shaktoolik checkpoint, which sits at the 777 mile (1250 km) point. In hot pursuit behind him is Peter Kaiser, last year’s winner Joar Liefseth Ulsom, and Jessie Royer, all of which are also through that same CP. Four-time winner Mitch Seavey rounds out the top five, and is currently still in Shaktoolik but is preparing to chase down those in front of him.
At this point, nearly all of the mushers have completed both their mandatory 24 hour and 8 hour rest, which means they have those two important strategic stops behind them. They will of course rest en route to Nome, but when, where, and for how long will be determined by the race standings and conditions. As of this morning however, Kaiser and Ulsom were just 14 miles (22 km) behind Petit, which means things could get very competitive in the home stretch. With such a short distance separating the top mushers strategy will play an important role and you can bet that each of the teams is keeping a close eye on the others to see when and where they make a move.
It now seems like we should probably see the first mushers arriving at the finish line sometime on Wednesday or so. The conditions are good out on the trail and the teams are making excellent time, with the pace likely to be quickened by the competition at the top of the leaderboard. We’ll keep a close eye on things over the next few days as the chess match plays out in the Alaskan wilderness.