Monday, March 12, 2012

Can Aliy do it?

With Dallas Seavey seemingly firmly in the lead, many have wondered if the race is in fact over for Zirkle. Aliy, for most of the race, determined the pace for the rest of the field, and just two days ago had the world celebrating the idea of the first woman in over twenty years was going to win. Then Dallas Seavey made up a lot of time difference and followed that with taking control of the race in Unalakleet.

Dallas seems to be in complete control. He's a veteran of this race running six of the last eight Iditarods. He's steadily climbed the ranks, he's trained with the best mushers out there, and he's quickly and effectively built up a respectable kennel. Dallas has said all season that he fully intended to win the Iditarod in 2012. Not that it was the goal, but that he would. That's a big statement even for a 25 year old guy. It's been a long while since someone in their early to mid 20s has won. Rick Swenson holds the record of being the youngest at 26. Dallas has been pushing to beat that record since starting his own kennel.

Everything seems to be coming together for Seavey. He's stuck to his schedule for most of this race, only changing it up a bit now that he's on the coast. He's still gaining speed on some of the other front runners, and he's still very much aware of himself when it comes into checkpoints. Maybe he has one up on everyone thanks to his youth (I've actually never seen him exhausted, and he doesn't seem to find time to sleep, he is always moving)! Every analyst and musher along the trail has said this is his race to lose, and he doesn't look to be giving anyone that chance.

Dallas has rested his team more than anyone else here on the Coast, and is still ahead by nearly an hour. The more rest the dogs get at this stage in the game, the more they're likely to keep a faster set pace. The dogs will listen and trust their musher more if they know that he is taking care of them. That's not to say that those resting less are any less caring - far from it - but more rest is NEVER a bad thing. If he can afford to take it, he will. If he needs to take it, he's going to have to so that he can push them to the limit if it's a sprint for the finish - which Dallas has planned for.

Before you start mourning Zirkle's loss, however, reconsider. We still have quite a bit of trail before White Mountain, and there's a small enough gap that this race could still be determined between White Mountain and Nome. Zirkle is just two miles behind Dallas and is keeping the pace. She and her team have been showing signs of tiredness, but her dogs are willing to go with her to the end. While others - like Jeff King and Pat Moon - have had dogs flat quit on them and not move another inch, Zirkle's team keeps going... and going... and going... It looks like that's starting to wear on them, but who knows.

All Aliy has to do is keep within range, and wait for Dallas to make a mistake in judgement or for his team to tire. That is a huge possibility. But her team can tire, too. And there's still Burmeister and Baker to consider. This is the Iditarod. Anything is possible.

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