William Kleedehn pulled into Central three minutes ahead of Hugh Neff.
But race marshal Doug Grilliot turned those three minutes into two hours.
Neff cheated, he said.
Grilliot gave the Annie Lake musher a two-hour time penalty.
Neff broke rule number six – that all mushers must follow the trail as marked, said race official Kelly Griffin.
Near Circle Hot Springs the trail enters the road for a couple hundred metres, said Grilliot.
“Then it goes back into the timber,” he said.
“But Mr. Neff stayed on the road for approximately 5.7 miles.”
People make mistakes, said Grilliot.
“But this is very different.
“He did it purposefully.”
The twisty, bumpy Quest trail through the trees was a lot slower than the ploughed road.
Kleedehn turned around and saw Neff on the road, said Grilliot.
But Kleedehn didn’t file a complaint, he said.
“Numerous people” saw Neff on the road, he said.
“Mr. Neff admitted it,” added Grilliot.
“To willfully act like this to enhance your own position is not acceptable.”
The two-hour penalty is arbitrary.
“We thought that was fair,” said Grilliot. There was “much discussion,” he said.
The media briefing happened after both mushers had already left the checkpoint. Both Kleedehn and Neff were informed of the penalty before they left, said Grilliot.
Jon Little, who arrived in Central in third place three hours after Neff and Kleedehn, didn’t want to talk about the penalty.
“It’s not my business,” he said.
“But I will say it’s no fun coming in second on a technicality.”
Before the penalty was announced, Kleedehn and Neff were neck-and-neck.
Under that kind of pressure Kleedehn’s been known to pull out some tricks.
The best was his parka ploy.
In a close race about 10 years ago, the Carcross musher hauled into one of the last checkpoints and hung up his parka in an obvious spot.
Then he slipped out the back door, pulled on a new parka he’d shipped in one of his drop bags, hooked up his team and took off.
The move put him in second place.
This year, Kleedehn’s been running in first place since Forty Mile, just outside Dawson.
The parka trick’s not necessary, he said while eating a steak at the Steese Roadhouse before the penalty was announced.
“I’m not worried about (Neff) getting out front,” said Kleedehn.
“I will pass him 50 yards from the finish line, if I have to.”
Kleedehn has faster dogs.
“I tested that last night,” he said with a smile.
On Birch Creek, between Circle and Central, Kleedehn pulled over and waited for Neff to pass.
“It’s monotonous there and my dogs hate going slow,” he said.
As soon as Neff went by, Kleedehn’s team started barking.
“I had two feet on the brake so I would not run right over him,” he said.
But speedy dogs aren’t all it takes.
There are two more summits before the finish line, and Neff is going to climb them faster, said Kleedehn, who sports a prosthetic leg.
“It’s nice to get a leap in the mountains, and if having two legs to William’s one is an advantage, I’ll take advantage of that,” said Neff.
Having only one leg slows Kleedehn down “unbelievably.”
“It costs me all kinds of time,” he said.
“But if it frustrated me, I would never bother racing in the first place.
“I don’t think about it – it’s just the way it is.”
Preparing to climb 1,123 metres over Eagle Summit, Kleedehn was lightening his load.
The seat attached to his sled was staying behind and he wasn’t even going to fill up his water bottle.
“I’m not hauling a full bottle over the summit, that’s extra weight,” he said with a laugh.
It’s Neff’s first time climbing up the near-vertical ascent in the dark.
“It’s easier in the dark,” said Kleedehn.
“You can’t see it and neither can the dogs.”
Neff has been cutting rest to keep up with Kleedehn.
It should have put him at a disadvantage. But Neff has “steady dogs,” said Kleedehn.
“I want to win this race more than the Iditarod,” said Neff.
“The Quest has stolen my soul.”
Kleedehn also wants to win.
“But I’m not willing to sacrifice a single dog to do it,” he said.
“When I win a dog race, it is my dogs that do it, not my ego.”
Neff will serve his two-hour penalty at the last checkpoint, 72 kilometres from Fairbanks.
The winner is expected to arrive in Fairbanks on Tuesday.
Contact Genesee Keevil at