Almost two decades ago Yukon’s Gerry Willomitzer travelled to Wyoming to be a handler at his first dog sled race. Nineteen years later he returned as a musher.
Willomitzer, of Shallow Bay, placed seventh at the Eukanuba Stage Stop Sled Dog Race in Wyoming on Saturday.
“It was exciting. I had been down there before, 19 years ago, as a handler for somebody else so I knew the basic race format,” said Willomitzer. “Seventh place is well within my expectations. I could be anywhere within fifth and 10th and fifth would have been exceptional.
“I’m competing against an entirely different type of dog team down there. I went down there with dogs I bred for distance racing. The mushers down there have a different dog, they have more of a pointer cross that’s more built for speed. So I think we did pretty good.”
The eight-stage eight-dog Eukanuba race is considered one of the biggest sled dog races in the Lower 48. It has a similar format as the Tour de France cycling race in that each day there is a stage at a different location.
It began in Jackson Hole on Jan. 29 and finished in Uinta County on Saturday, with most of the stages around 70 kilometres in length, give or take.
Willomitzer completed the combined 520-kilometre race with a cumulative time of 27 hours, 11 minutes and three seconds.
The Yukon Quest and Iditarod veteran began with his best finish, placing second out of the 13 teams on the first stage, finishing the 51.5 kilometres in 3:07:38.
“I don’t know how that happened,” said Willomitzer. “I was just running the way I usually run and the way I trained for. But it snowed about a foot over night and I think some of the competitors were really holding back. Those sprint dogs aren’t built for really tough trails, deep snow and trail breaking. So that may have gone in our favour a little bit.”
Willomitzer, who is a past champion in Dawson City’s Percy DeWolfe and the Yukon Quest 300, also placed fifth on stage two, seventh on stage five and eighth on stage four.
Fort Nelson, B.C.‘s Buddy Streeper, a multi-time sprint world champ, won his seventh Eukanuba with a cumulative time of 24:34:30. Denmark’s Alex Stegmann placed second.
The Eukanuba – formerly the Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race – has seen a Yukon champ a number of times in its 21 years. Yukon’s Hans Gatt won the race four times in five years between 1997 and 2001.
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