Thursday, March 12, 2015

Iditarod 2015: Jeff King Leads at Galena, Challengers Lurk

There are once again some very familiar names lurking on the leaderboard at the 2015 Iditarod sled dog race currently underway in Alaska. The top mushers have now completed more than 350 miles (563 km) of the course, and have passed through the checkpoint in Ruby as they steam on towards the finish line in Nome. There is still a long way to go until someone reaches that point however, and the race has not been an easy one thus far. But it is shaping up to be another classic that will be decided on strategy and positioning in the days ahead.

Iditarod legend Jeff King is currently the leader, and the only musher to have passed through the Galena checkpoint. He is being chased by Ally Zirkle, who is in second place out of Ruby. Aaron Burmeister is holding down the third spot, with former champ Martin Buser currently in fourth and Jessie Royer in fifth. Defending champ Dallas Seavey is running 7th overall, and seems poised to make a move as the race develops.

Of that group, King, Buser, and Seavey are the only ones to have already taken their mandatory 8 hour rest period, which means that Zirkle, Burmeister, and the rest may be ahead on the leaderboard, but they will give up time when they stop for their eventual rest. All of the mushers are also required to make a mandatory 24-hour stop, but that won't come until a bit later in the race. Those rest periods are part of the strategy that they'll employ as they make their way toward the home stretch in a few days time.

Elsewhere on the course, four-time champ Lance Mackey is hinting that this could be his final Iditarod. Mackey has been having issues with his hands getting very cold, despite wearing very warm gloves. This is causing him some pain and discomfort, and has forced him to take his mandatory 24-hour rest in Tanana, days before his competition will do the same. Lance suffered similar issues in last month's Yukon Quest, and it could be an indication that his long-distance racing days are coming to an end. Mackey has had to deal with a number of ailments over the years, not the least of which was surviving cancer to continue racing, but it seems that this time his body is no longer cooperating with him, and this could be the last ride for one of the sport's great champions.

Meanwhile, at the front of the race, the teams continue to press on. A lack of snow on the trail has forced them to race on frozen riverbeds for much of the way thus far, but that doesn't seem to have had much of an impact on the proceedings thus far. The leading mushers are comfortable racing on any surface, and while they would like to see more snow, they're managing to cover the distances just fine so far.

It will be likely be the middle of next week before we know who the 2015 Iditarod champ will be. There is a lot of racing yet to go, and the leaderboard will likely be scrambled several times before the race is done. I'll post regular updates on the standings as the teams continue on to Nome.

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