The mushers of the 2011 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race are officially on the trail this evening, and those running the Yukon Quest 300 will be starting in just a few minutes - probably before I finish this blog entry. I just checked on the Quest Live Tracker and saw pretty much what I expected.
Movie fans probably recall the scene from the motion picture Hidalgo, in which horses and riders blast off the starting line in a huge display of furor, speed and dust only to slow to an easy walk once out of sight of the crowds. That's pretty much what we can expect the first two or three days of a long distance sled dog race. There may be one or two "rabbits" trying to jump out ahead of the pack, but for the most part the mushers and their teams are focusing on establishing their routine and rhythm for this race trail.
From the fans perspective, it means we can expect to see lots of changes on the leaderboard, but at this point it doesn't much matter who is in first, second or last position. What matters is is how well the teams can match their on-the-trail tactics to their overall race strategies and how well they develop good running and checkpoint work habits.
This year the Quest is trying something a bit new, which will make it easier for fans to keep track of leaders, chasers and also-rans. This year the starting time differential will be built into the mandatory layover of the first checkpoint of the race. So, once the team leave Braeburn, whoever is shown in first or second or twentithird really will be in that position - removing the need to calculate the math to compensate for the start times.
Of course I can't resist chiming in from time to time as news from the trail flows my direction, so stay tuned - the best and worse are yet to come.