The Yukon Quest will now start a week earlier in February, easing the transition for mushers looking to run both the Quest and the Iditarod.
“There is no way that anyone can recover from the Quest in a week and then run another 1,000-mile race,” said Whitehorse musher Hans Gatt.
“We do it, but we’re already tired when the next race starts,” he said.
After arriving fourth in Dawson City during this year’s Yukon Quest, Gatt scratched to save his team for the Iditarod, in which he placed tenth.
The morning after the Yukon Quest banquet, winner Sebastian Schnuelle was already on his way to Anchorage.
Mere days after he had crossed the Yukon Quest finish line, he was already at the Iditarod vet check.
“There’s absolutely no room for error; if your truck broke down, you had an issue,” said Schnuelle.
With a full week between the races, “there’s a little more time to breathe,” he said.
The scheduling change will probably raise the level of competition for both races.
There’s a possibility more Iditarod mushers will join the Quest lineup, and Quest mushers will be better prepared when they start the Iditarod.
“It’s going to be tougher to place in the top, that’s for sure, but that’s racing and I think that’s a good thing,” said Gatt.
For years, a coalition of Iditarod-Quest mushers have been calling for the change.
“The Yukon Quest board was pretty famous in the past for not listening to mushers, but that’s changed a little bit in the last couple of years,” said Gatt.
“I love that they actually listened to us this time, it’s nice,” said Schnuelle.
Some quest officials worried that they were pulling mushers a week further into winter.
“There were concerns about it being a little bit darker and potentially colder,” said Yukon Quest executive director Wendy Morrison.
“That argument’s a bit of a joke, we’ve had Quests at 60 below, so it’s not going to be anything different a week before that,” said Gatt.
Rolling the Iditarod forward a week, on the other hand, starts to get a bit “iffy,” said Schnuelle.
In 2007, Lance Mackey became the first musher to win both the Yukon Quest and Iditarod, a feat dubbed the “Mackey miracle.”
He repeated the “miracle” in 2008.
Even with an extra week, Schnuelle doesn’t expect to see similar “miracles” becoming a common occurrence.
“It’s already hard enough to win one, never mind winning both,” said Schnuelle.
After winning the 2009 Quest, Schnuelle placed second in the Iditarod.
“I always get questions from other mushers saying, ‘I really would like to do (both the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest) but I don’t know how you guys do it with only one week,’” said Schnuelle.
“Now it remains to be seen if they’re just talkers,” he said.
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