Unlike when she won two years ago, Tagish’s Michelle Phillips wasn’t backlit by the headlamp of Fairbanks, Alaska’s Aliy Zirkle late Monday night.
There was a lot more breathing room this time around.
Phillips claimed her second Yukon Quest 300 title with a two-hour victory over Zirkle Monday evening in Pelly Crossing. She beat rival Zirkle by just eight seconds in 2013, the last time Phillips entered the race.
“I’m really happy with my team and I’m really happy with the training I did and some of the dogs I had on my team,” said Phillips. “I had some younger dogs – some Iditarod prospects – and they really impressed me. Yah, it feels good.”
Phillips completed the 300-mile (483-kilometre) sled dog race from Whitehorse with a time of 56 hours and 16 minutes. Zirkle, who was the defending champ, came in at 58:18.
Dissimilar to the back-and-forth battle two years ago, Phillips owned it this year. The 46-year-old was fastest overall on all four legs of the race. She had a 42-minute lead over Zirkle by the end of the first leg at Braeburn following a chilly Saturday start with temperatures below minus-30.
“The hardest was coming into it knowing it was going to be cold because our winter was so warm that it was really hard on the mind to know if we’d be OK in the cold,” said Phillips, who reached the finish at 11:25 p.m. “But I’ve run a few Quests and Iditarods in some pretty cold weather – I think the coldest I’ve been in is 60-below running dogs – so we were fine. Kept the dogs well hydrated, took care of myself, and it wasn’t as bad as I expected.”
Third place’s Alex Serdjukov of Austria reached Pelly Crossing just in time for breakfast Tuesday morning, completing the race with a time of 61:44.
Fox Lake’s Martine LeLevier came fourth (69:51); Whitehorse’s Claudia Wickert fifth (71:34); Chukotka, Russia’s Timofei Gynuntegin sixth (72:15).
Phillips and Zirkle’s successes are limited to mid-distance races like the 300.
Zirkle is the only woman to win the Yukon Quest 1,000, which she did in 2000. The 44-year-old also placed second in the 2012 Iditarod.
Phillips has raced the 1,000-mile Quest six times, with five top-10 results. She placed fourth in 2008 and fifth in 2009. Additionally, she took 16th in the 2012 Iditarod and plans to race it again next month.
At press time Friday morning Phillip’s husband, Ed Hopkins, was in seventh place in the 1,000-mile Quest to Fairbanks. Zirkle’s husband, Allan Moore, who is attempting to win his third straight Quest 1,000 title, was at the Dawson City checkpoint in second place.
“The (Canadian) Rangers did an amazing job on the trail. There was some challenging jumble ice around McCabe Creek and they obviously put a lot of work into it and that was super impressive,” said Phillips.
“I just want to add the fact that Ed and I are raising money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, so I’d like to put a plug in that anyone who’d like to donate can go to our website (www.tagishlakekennel.com) and make a donation. Our son (Keegan Hopkins) was diagnosed a couple years ago, so we’d like to raise awareness and raise some money.”
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