Yukon down to one musher in Quest

Just two days in and Dawson City’s Brian Wilmshurst is the only Yukon musher left in the Yukon Quest. Yukon’s two other mushers, Normand Casavant and Jean-Denis Britten, both scratched on Sunday.

Just two days in and Dawson City’s Brian Wilmshurst is the only Yukon musher left in the Yukon Quest.

Yukon’s two other mushers, Normand Casavant and Jean-Denis Britten, both scratched on Sunday, the day after the start of the 1,600-kilometre sled dog race in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Casavant, who was Yukon’s top finisher last year in seventh, scratched at the Central checkpoint and Britten scratched at the Mile 101 dog drop.

Britten scratched for “personal reasons,” said a Quest media release, and there was no word on Casavant’s reason for scratching at press time.

By Monday morning Eureka, Alaska’s Brent Sass was leading the race with about an hour’s lead over defending Quest champ Allen Moore of Two Rivers, Alaska.

Sass, 34, reached the Two Rivers checkpoint in 10th, rested just seven minutes, and was the first back on the trail. He was ninth into Mile 101, took no rest, and was first out of there too. He rested five hours at the Central checkpoint and was first out of Circle City Monday morning at 3:25 a.m. Sass is in his seventh Quest and placed third last year for his best finish.

Moore left Circle City at 4:54 a.m. this morning.

Tok, Alaska’s Hugh Neff is close behind Moore in third. The 2012 champ left Circle City five minutes behind Moore.

Ester, Alaska’s Cody Strathe is in fourth, having set out from Circle City at 7:28 a.m.

John Schandelmeier of Maclaren River, Alaska, is in fifth. Schandelmeier, the only other Quest champ besides Moore and Neff, is in his 17th Quest dating back to 1986, winning it in 1992 and 1996.

Hank DeBruin of Haliburton, Ontario, is currently the top Canadian in the race in 12th place.

Wilmshurst is in 14th and is en route to Circle City. This year’s race is Wilmshurst’s third consecutive Quest and third in total. The 32-year-old placed 17th last year and 16th in 2012.

“I’ve seen both ways now,” Wilmshurst told the News before the start of the race. “It’s a great 1,000 miles. The scenery is great, you get to see mountain ranges and Yukon River. I’m just excited to get back out there and relive the trail again.”

There are only 16 teams left in this year’s race. A total of 18 started, which marked the smallest field in Quest history.

Unseasonably warm weather over the past couple weeks on both sides of the border has prompted changes to the race’s course.

Saturday’s start line was moved to downtown Fairbanks from the Chena River due to concerns over thin ice.

The finish line has been moved for the same reason. This year’s Quest will finish at the Takhini Hot Springs off the North Klondike Highway, instead of downtown Whitehorse, because of thin ice on the Yukon River.

It was announced last week that for the second year in a row teams will bypass American Summit due to impassable conditions.

The changes to the course will shorten the Quest by about 110 kilometres.

“Because American Summit is not on the trail, and because we’re cutting off quite a distance at the end of the trail between Whitehorse and the Hot Springs, the race will finish earlier,” said Quest executive director Marie Belanger last week. “For the public, it’s definitely important to keep an eye on the (Yukon Quest) website to see where the mushers will be.

“For the finish, we usually say Monday or Tuesday of the finish week. I would definitely move that to Sunday or Monday (Feb. 9-10).”

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com