Two mushers who produced the closest finish in the history of the Yukon Quest 300 are set to go head-to-head once again next month.
Tagish, Yukon’s Michelle Phillips and Fairbanks, Alaska’s Aliy Zirkle are among 25 mushers registered for the 300-mile (483-kilometre) race beginning in Whitehorse on Feb. 7.
In 2013 Phillips beat Zirkle – last year’s winner – by eight seconds to win her first Quest 300 title.
“It’s nice to see there’s a little more snow and a little more cold weather to freeze up the lakes and rivers and make the trail a little safer,” said Phillips, who didn’t race in last year’s event. “It’s always a little more encouraging. We’re looking forward to it.”
“I like running the 300 when it starts in Whitehorse,” she added. “My husband (Ed Hopkins) is running the (Yukon Quest) 1,000, so it helps us get a good team ready for the Iditarod.”
Phillips, 46, has raced the 1,000-mile Quest six times, with five top-10 results. She placed fourth in 2008 and fifth in 2009, winning the Veterinarian’s Award. She won the women’s division of the Gin Gin 200 in 2009 and placed 16th in the 2012 Iditarod, for a personal best.
Zirkle became the first and only woman to win the Yukon Quest 1,000 in 2000. The 44-year-old also placed fourth in 1999 and took second in the 2012 Iditarod.
Phillips is one of 10 Yukon mushers registered for this year’s race, which runs from Whitehorse to Pelly Crossing.
Five Whitehorse mushers and their teams will take to the trails next month. They are Claudia Wickert, Melissa Schenke, Alexandra Rochat, Jacob Heigers and Susie Rogan, whose partner is four-time Yukon Quest champ Hans Gatt.
Other Yukoners include Carcross’ Simi Morrison, Dawson City’s Peter Reuter, Fox Lake’s Martine Le Levier, Shallow Bay’s Gerry Willomitzer and Mendenhall’s Gaetan Pierrard.
There are also eight Alaskans registered, including Two Rivers, Alaska’s Sebastian Schnuelle, who won the 1,000-mile Quest in 2009 and placed third in last year’s Quest 300.
The field of mushers also reaches beyond North America with Swede Dave King, Austrian Alex Serdjukov, Russian Timofei Gynuntegin, and U.K.‘s Kim Franklin and Jonathan Fletcher.
The Northwest Territories are also represented by Paul Hamlyn.
“Aliy is a great musher, there’s lots of other great mushers, so I guess we’ll see,” said Phillips. “We’d just like to thank the volunteers and all the people who work so hard to put it on every year.”
The Quest 300 has a cap of 25 teams with six currently on the waiting list.
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