Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sat. Evening Report by Myron Angstman

Myron's Analysis

This report comes shortly after the first four teams departed Kaltag for the coast. At that time, Zirkle held a 9 mile lead, leaving about 1 ½ hours before Baker. Among the first four teams, traveling speeds have about evened out. The next team to leave will likely be Dallas Seavey, and his speed is still a bit faster than the teams ahead of him. If he can maintain that speed advantage, he will likely win. But from Kaltag to Nome, lack of rest can drain away speed from teams that are used to resting a bit longer. It is worth noting that this year, like most years, Baker is moving just as fast now as he did most of race. That is how he has moved up at the end of most of his races, and that’s how he won last year.

There is a group of fast moving teams running 7-9, which includes Kaiser, Berkowitz and Redington who have caught the eye of at least one savvy race watcher. Sebastian Schnuelle, an experienced racer, is running the trail with a snow machine and he reported today from Nulato that those three racers could barely stop their teams when they pulled into Nulato a few hours behind the leaders. Leaping and barking dogs are a good sign this late in the race. Further on the trail spy work informs me that of those three teams, Bethel youngster Pete Kaiser has a slight edge in speed. Any team ahead of those three teams that falters will be following them into Nome.

Notably missing from the front runners are a few teams that figured to be in the running. Lance Mackey has stated he has no chance to win, and neither do Martin Buser , Hugh Neff or Paul Gebhardt. The Iditarod is unkind to teams that falter, because the long distance involved tends to magnify shortcomings that develop as the race develops. The two top rookies Brent Sass and Josh Cadzow are running neck and neck at 20 and 21 in the standings. Both are accomplished racers with strong showings in other races before entering the Iditarod. For anyone interested in reading about another kind of rookie run in an old time Iditarod, check this link.

Myron Angstman, lawyer, pilot, and dog musher, lives in Bethel, Alaska. R
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Day 7 by Sam Towarak

Sam's Analysis

Unalakleet residents drive up to Old Woman cabin to replenish the wood, groom the trails, establish a trail for stopping, and serve as hosts to any visitors coming in. The late Paul Johnson was a loyal host and he will be missed. The spirit of Old Woman, part of the Spirit of the Iditarod.

Well, today and last night belonged to Aliy Zirkle. She did not use any of my scenarios but she managed to recapture the lead. The lead she had in Kaltag was about 3 ½ hours- which is getting close to being a checkpoint to checkpoint game. The game involved means the leader comes into the checkpoint four hours ahead of the next musher and rests at the checkpoint until the second musher comes in, than leaves for the next checkpoint. We are close to that playing out and one of the remaining contenders needs to step up to the plate to counter Aliy’s lead.

The 90 mile run to Unalakleet lately has been done in one run by the leader which follows another long rest in Unalakleet in order to continue up the coast. Let’s talk about Mitch Seavey and possibly what happened to his lead at Ruby. Mitch chose to do the run from Cripple to Ruby without a rest, and it affected the speed of his team. Losing that speed cost him some options and Aliy in her brilliance, chose to eight hour in Galena.

Two new mushers have joined the fray and they are Aaron Burmeister and Jeff King. Aaron has developed a system that works for him, and in order to perfect the system- it needs to finish in the front. We will see if he unleashes his dogs from the 8 mile limit he has imposed to gain some speed and improve in position. Jeff King is a surprise because he had retired and his dogs were not Iditarod proven but with his mushing skill, he has managed to be up front with the leaders. He can be a musher of concern if he unleashes the stored energy of his dogs at any remaining time of the race. He is to be congratulated for his good showing regardless.

Martin Buser and other mushers are amazed at the pace of the race. Martin says that there are “lots and lots of mushers in the top 30 and are packed in a tight 10-12 hour window“. The top contenders have brought about some separation and those six look to be amongst the contending field for the top position. Aliy Zirkle can win the race if she can do the Portage run to maintain her 3 ½ hour separation. However, I expect someone to move up with her to give her a run for her money on this particular portage run.

From Kaltag forward to Nome, there has been a group of mushers who raced that portion of the trail earlier in the Paul Johnson 450. I will be curious to see if that familiarity on the part of the dogs benefit Aaron Burmeister, Dee Dee Jonrowe and Peter Kaiser who raced in the 450. The perk maybe in how the dogs respond to the trail and pick up on running speed knowing how close they are to concluding the race.

The race on the Coast will excite the masses. This race is far from done and we can expect some surprises still- that’s why they play the game.

Sam Towarak, retired school teacher, dog musher, and sports commentator, lives in Unalakleet, Alaska.