It was a close one.
Just eight seconds separated the top two teams at the Yukon Quest 300 late Monday evening following a neck-and-neck battle from the start in Whitehorse.
Tagish’s Michelle Phillips held a narrow lead over Fairbanks’ Aliy Zirkle to win the 300-mile dogsled race.
Phillips crossed the finish line at 10:20:02 p.m. ahead of Zirkle. Both mushers are registered for the 2013 Iditarod early next month.
“I was happy. We were both running a lot of our Iditarod teams and some spares, so it was good training,” said Phillips. “It was good to see where the dogs were at … You can never tell when you’re training dogs. Once you put them in a race you can see things about certain dogs you don’t notice in training. So it was well worth it, it was great.
“It was fun. It was nice to be out on the Quest trail.”
The two Quest veterans were just minutes apart at all three checkpoints in the race, and hours ahead of the rest of the field leaving the first checkpoint at Braeburn.
Phillips cruised to Braeburn just two minutes in front of Zirkle, and three minutes in front at the second checkpoint in Carmacks.
Zirkle then reached the Pelly Crossing checkpoint two minutes ahead of Phillips and left for the final leg of the race eight minutes ahead.
Even after winning the race, Phillips has little time to rest. Just half a day after crossing the finish line, she was off to support her husband, Ed Hopkins, who is running the full-distance Yukon Quest to Fairbanks.
“I’m just heading to Dawson to take care of Ed’s team,” said Phillips.
“My team is a combination of some young dogs and some older dogs,” she added. “Ed’s got a lot of the five-year-olds and then some younger ones, so I had some eight-year-olds and a few young dogs. It was a good mix: wisdom and inexperience.”
Phillips and Zirkle are no strangers to challenging races.
Phillips has raced the 1,000-mile Quest six times, with five top-10 results. She placed fourth in 2008 and fifth in 2009. She won the women’s division of the Gin Gin 200 in 2009 and placed 17th in the 2011 Iditarod and 16th in the 2012 Iditarod.
“I did the Quest 300 a couple of other times when it was the 250,” said Phillips.
Zirkle is the first woman to win the Yukon Quest in 2000 and placed fourth in 1999. Zirkle also placed second in the 2012 Iditarod.
Jerry Joinson, of Fort St. James, B.C., placed third Tuesday morning at 9:55 a.m.
Whitehorse’s Olaf Thurau raced to fourth, crossing the finish line at 12:41 p.m. Tuesday.
Whitehorse’s Yuka Honda, who placed 15th in last year’s 1,000-mile Quest, finished fifth at 1:06 p.m. Tuesday.
“I probably went a little slower than I thought I should have gone, but it was good,” said Joinson. “I’m just a hobby musher who gets crazy and races once or twice a year.
“The weather was beautiful – no frost. And the trails were nice. A little punchy in places, but in general, it was a good year to run it.”
Joinson placed 12th in the 2011 Yukon Quest 1,000. He also came first in the Nord Hope (North Hope) Sled Dog Race in Russia three years ago.
As of press time, the Quest 300, from Whitehorse to Pelly Crossing, down to Stepping Stone, and back to Pelly Crossing, had two scratches from the 17 starters.
Dawson City’s Kyia Bouchard scratched in Braeburn and Fairbanks’ Paige Drobny scratched in Carmacks.
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com