The 2012 Iditarod Start Banquet was last night, mushers have drawn their bib numbers which determines the starting order.
EVERYTHING counts during a 1,000 mile race, and with so much snow having fallen south of the Alaska Range, start order can be a huge contributor toward success or failure in this year's I'rod. Those who drew low numbers will essentially be breaking trail for those following, but those drawing very low numbers will face a trail that has been rutted, churned up and rendered challenging by the teams running ahead.
You can view the whole Iditarod start order at http://iditarod.com/race/musher-listing/
It looks like Ray Redington Jr. drew the short straw this year, with bib #1. I leased a leader that came from Ray's kennel for a season a few years ago, and if she is typical of his dogs his team will have more heart than size - she was rather small and very "racey", but probably not the best choice for trail breaking. I suspect Ray will probably try to drop back a few places early in the race, just to have a better trail.
I'm guessing the first 9 teams will have the toughest conditions on which to race, and all are veterans so don't be surprised if you see several of them falling back early on.
The teams between 10th and about 25th will probably have the best trail conditions, and this group includes contenders Jeff King (10th) last year's record setting champion John Baker (11th), my friend Aliy Zirkle (14th), Lance Mackey (18th). Drawing bib number 27, Hugh Neff may face some trail related challenges, but with his experience and coming off a Yukon Quest win, I doubt it will be anything he and his dogs can't handle well.
The further back in the pack, the more likely they are to face trail issues, and that includes notables such as Jake Berkowitz (29th), Dallas and Mitch Seavey (34 and 35 respectively), Ken Anderson (39), Martin Buser (41), Brent Sass (50), Sonny Lindner (59), Rick Swenson (50).
The first one or two hundred miles of the trail sees a fair amount of traffic all winter long, so it probably won't be too bad. I think during the first 2 days of the race we will see mushers changing positions frequently as everyone tries to be 'set up' in good position for the middle section of the race. I think those who leave Finger Lake between 10th and 20th place will have the best trail into the Interior, and I would not be at all surprised to see the winner emerge from that group.