Thursday, March 6, 2014

Bets Are In on the Top 5

Tonight I  pick the top five contenders to win the  2014 Iditarod.  This is based on current position, speed, history and a bit  of intuition.  There are some who will question these choices, and please feel free to post on the Baker website your choices.  They are probably better than mine.

Robert Sorlie is one of my contenders.  This is based primarily on today’s run, but also on his average moving speed  which  is  the highest in the race.  He has won twice before, he has  had a few years off to get ready for  this year, and all indications are he is on a roll.

Another contender Aily Zirkle is a bit harder to  figure. Today’s run included a stop not too far from Ruby,  suggesting she will  run straight through the village and   stop later. That puts her on a different schedule and also makes it harder to evaluate her chances.  But last year’s second place finish  figures into the decision to make her one of the five.

Jeff King also makes the cut, but this is a little longer reach because he will be a long ways behind leaving Ruby.  What remains to be seen is how much speed he will gain because of  the 24 hour rest he took in Ruby.  It might enable him to  make a big push down the Yukon, where the trail is very good, downhill, and with a tail wind.  His four previous titles figure  in my thinking as well.

Sonny Lindner makes the cut for many of the same reasons as King. He actually will have  about an  hour lead  on King leaving Ruby, and has  been very impressive in a couple of recent runs.   He is the oldest guy left in the race, and   those of us who live in the bush know that  older people have elder wisdom that shouldn’t  be overlooked.  By the way, I am older than Lindner.

The final member of the top five is Martin Buser.  He is likely to be the first team out of Ruby, and  also will likely have his mandatory 8 hour rest completed when  he leaves.  Zirkle might leave  earlier, but if she does she will  likely be stopping soon putting  Buser back in the lead.   His speed is still quite good on recent runs, and the Yukon trail will favor his usually speedy dogs.  His past wins also figure in my thinking, but  that is tempered somewhat by last year’s race when his early sprint ended up slowing him down a lot at the end.

John Baker does not  make the top five cut despite his history of catching up late.  He likely will move up in the next few days, but there are too many good teams ahead of him now to put  him among the contenders to win.   Katherine Keith won’t win, but she sure is  having a good run and is a serious candidate for rookie of the year.

Looking at Speed

Tonight I will pick my list of contenders, but a preview of that is possible  this morning.   King is putting on a  serious move, pulling away from Lindner on the run from Cripple to  Ruby. His speeds have been good.   Buser will have quite a lead leaving Ruby, thanks to his mad dash out of Willow.  It could  be several hours, maybe as many as 6  if he has a good run  today.  But there is speed  behind him.  The two fastest team in sight are Sorlie and Zirkle.  Sorlie  is 23 ahead of  Zirkle according to the tracker and is slowly emerging as the team to beat,

John Baker took his  24 break at Cripple and will leave there tonight.  Katherine  Keith will see  him leave, now done with  her 24 hour rest and  running in 19th place.  That positioning now  starts to mean something, as she  stands  first among the rookies.  Abbie  West is  close in second, and moving  faster than  Keith.

Baker’s average moving speed of 6.9  mph is significantly lower than other contenders.  Sorlie, for example  is 8.2.  I have asked the  tracker folks to create a new category of chart,  average moving speed for the  most recent  24 hours or 100 miles.  That would tell the fans a lot more than speed over the entire race.  If a team’s speed is trending up,  teams  ahead will have a problem.  If its trending down, it will be a long  run to Nome as teams rarely speed up once they start  losing speed.  Baker’s history suggests he moves better  later in the race.  He is not far off the pace, and if he picks up speed on the Yukon he could still be a factor.