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Ready to go? Iditarod teams set their sights on Nome Sunday

Mar 03, 2019 08:26AM ● By Editor

Photo:  KTVA

By Dave Goldman of KTVA-TV - March 3, 2019

The ceremonial start in Anchorage is over. On Sunday, the 47th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will officially begin from Willow.

Between now and next week, 52 teams will set the course for Nome — among them are 10 rookies. Veteran Anja Radano will begin it all at 2 p.m. Sunday tackling the first 42 miles from Willow to Yentna Station, then another 30 to Skwentna.

The early talk is that the southern route, which will be traveled for a second consecutive year, has plenty of snow in most areas. In fact, there may be too much in some spots. A handful of mushers said on Thursday at the annual banquet that they expect a slower-go.

So many great storylines have already been drawn with many more to be discovered.

Can Norwegian Joar Leifseth Ulsom, last year's champion and the only musher to place seventh or better in his first six races repeat? Like any sport, going back-to-back is difficult to do. Only five mushers in the race's history have done it.

Can Nic Petit, who came within a wrong turn of claiming his first crown in 2018, get to the burled arch first? He burns to win this thing.

Mitch Seavey wants to get to four. That would put him within one of Rick Swenson's all-time mark of five.

Then there's a handful of hopefuls who've been close and would love to take that victorious Front Street march. Wade Marrs, Pete Kaiser, and Richie Diehl have been top-10 fixtures but haven't broken through yet. Each have said it's the little things to be tweaked. Jessie Holmes and Ramey Smyth are back. So is Eagle, Alaska born-and-raised musher Matt Hall, who took 11th a year ago and at 27 already has a Yukon Quest win on his resume.

Never count out four-time champ Jeff King. If the situation is right and he's in position, look out.

Coming of last year's 13th place finish and a Kuskokwim 300 win in late January, Matt Failor's stock is rising, too, though he'll need a couple of good breaks to contend at the end.

And then there's Aliy Zirkle; no one has a longer line for autographs or is more beloved. With three second-place finishes, she's been excruciatingly close. She competes and always has a technically sound dog team. She calls this year's group "sexy." It's her 19th race and she's wearing — bib No. 19.

In years past, No. 13 has been a fortuitous number to wear. Three Mackeys — Dick, Rick and Lance — all wore it in wins. So did the Yukon Fox Emmitt Peters in 1975. This year, it goes to Lev Shvarts. While not a contender to win, he is one of the great characters on the trail and a good guy. Last year, he finished in 41st.

Above all, remember that nobody wins the Iditarod on day one. All of these teams are aiming to get on the trail, get into a groove and get going. Course management and decisions are constantly being made by the mushers to either put them in place to win or simply finish with a happy, healthy dog team.

But bold moves? Not yet.

It's important to remember the human element in a sled dog race, too. Everyone is amped up: even the veterans who do this each year. How could they not be? This is what they and their dog teams work for all year long.

There are many terrific short, mid-distance and long-distance races across the globe. But speak to mushers and an overwhelming majority will tell you this is the one they want to win. There is nothing like the Iditarod. It's why it's called The Last Great Race.

And it's on.

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