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Footrace to the finish

Michelle Phillips and Martin Buser came racing down the finish chute neck-and-neck on Tuesday night. Pedalling hard, with headlamps bobbing, both mushers were vying for fourth place. Buser passed under...


Michelle Phillips and Martin Buser came racing down the finish chute neck-and-neck on Tuesday night.

Pedalling hard, with headlamps bobbing, both mushers were vying for fourth place.

Buser passed under the finish line just seconds ahead of Phillips.

He was dreaming about the $15,000 payout.

“As I was peddaling, I was thinking, Michelle’s boy’s not in college yet - I need this more than she does,” he said with a laugh.

“I was kicking hard and cramping up.”

Bent over her sled, Phillips took a minute to catch her breath.

The Tagish musher left the last checkpoint 19 minutes after Buser and managed to catch him an hour before the finish line.

“Michelle came by and acted like I was standing still - or going backwards,” said Buser.

“I watched her disappearing into the sunset.”

Buser “regrouped,” and the teams started leapfrogging on the river.

“I passed him, but then I couldn’t keep my speed up,” said Phillips.

“It was like, ‘Oh right, that’s Martin Buser behind me.’”

The four-time Iditarod champ was happy to be done with his first Yukon Quest.

He made a rookie error -“showing up,” he said with a laugh.

“I haven’t digested this Quest yet,” added Buser.

And he’s not sure he’d recommend the race.

“I have to sleep on it,” he said.

It’s quite different from the Iditarod.

The dogs are carrying heavier loads, and it’s a slower race, he said.

“I wanted to come and see why the guys were going so slow.”

Buser blames the trail for the sluggish run times.

“It’s less travelled, so that leaves it without a base,” he said.

The hospitality stops are amazing, he added.

“I brought way too much of my own food.”

The Quest is not as remote as it’s made out to be, said Buser.

“It’s a road race - you see truck lights just about everywhere.”

At one point Buser even found himself driving down a paved highway with his dog team.

“There were these fuel trucks passing us, honking and pointing,” he said.

He eventually found the trail.

“It’s a weird feeling driving down a highway with your dog team,” he said.

The highlight for Buser was coming over Rosebud Summit and seeing the lights of Fairbanks in the distance.

“I knew I made it,” he said.

Buser was “in camping mode” for most of the race. And toward the end of it he saw a lot of Phillips.

“I had my own schedule and stayed true to it,” said Phillips.

“It’s always about learning and playing it smart.”

“We took good care of the dogs,” added Buser.

Buser didn’t snap out of “camping mode” until Phillips passed him just before the finish line.

“At 50, there’s still some race in me,” he said.

The final run into Fairbanks usually takes about six hours.

It took Brent Sass twice that.

Buser, Phillips and William Kleedehn all passed Sass, who left the last checkpoint more than four hours ahead of them.

He’s having some trouble, said Kleedehn, who arrived in sixth place about an hour and a half after Phillips.

Kleedehn also had some trouble.

“For a while my race was really good, then the dogs took over,” he said.

With his only experienced leader in full-blown heat, the Carcross musher stalled before Eagle Summit.

It’s lucky for the other mushers that his bitch went into heat, he noted.

“I don’t think anyone could have beaten this team. I think I had the best team.”

Kleedehn ended up pushing his sled up Rosebud Summit.

“The dogs were not thinking about running - they were in a totally different world,” he said.

“I was so tired getting over that hill I had to camp and sleep for four hours.

“But the dogs were not tired at all because they were not pulling.”

Kleedehn made sure his bitch wasn’t bred, not matter how hard the team tried.

“They messed up my race, so I made damn sure I messed up their plans,” he said with a laugh.

“But we’ve finished on a positive note,” he added.

“I got them back and running and not just thinking about sex.”

Sass arrived about 45 minutes later.

“It’s great to be here,” he said, pulling into the start chute just before midnight on Tuesday, 12 hours after beginning his last run.

“It took a little longer than I expected.”

By pushing his team a little too hard, Sass lost the fifth-place slot he’d held most of the race.

“I made some mistakes in previous days that led to not being able to go very fast today,” he said.

Sass ended up walking in front of his team, trying to motivate them.

His lead dog, Silver, was willing, but the rest of the team wanted to lie down, he said.

So Sass and his dogs took a two-hour nap.

“It was a long slog in the heat from Central (185 kilometres) to that last checkpoint,” he said.

“I pushed the dogs a little hard there, and we paid for it today.”

Sass’s father, Mark, waited at the finish line. He was thrilled to be part of his son’s dream.

He has followed his son on every Quest, handling for him and driving from checkpoint to checkpoint.

“It’s dog racing - it’s called education,” he said.

“When you think you’re in control, you’re not necessarily.”

Brent loves what he’s doing, said Mark.

“And he’s giving it his all - it’s great to be able to share that with my son.”

It’s a journey, said Brent. “And I’m glad to be here.”

Dan Kaduce arrived 20 minutes after Sass with a barking, tail-wagging team.

“The dogs are as least as fast as when I started the race,” said the eighth-place finisher.

“I really took it easy on them the first half.

“But it was hard to sit back and watch this major racing going on.”

Kaduce stuck to his schedule.

And it paid off.

“It was a fast run,” he said.

“And the dogs are great.”

Warren Palfrey, from Yellowknife, is expected to arrive in ninth place sometime this morning.

The red-lantern team is in Circle City, more than 230 miles from Fairbanks.

Contact Genesee Keevil at