Friday, January 31, 2014

2014 Yukon Quest

The 2014 Yukon Quest starts tomorrow, with a small field and a tough trail.  While the field is small it's pretty strong, and there's nobody who pops out as likely to get into a lot of trouble (note that "likely to get into a lot of trouble" is not the same as "likely to scratch").  At this point we know that the race will be starting on 2nd Avenue in Fairbanks rather than on the river, and will be ending at Takhini Hot Springs rather than Whitehorse, in both cases due to poor ice on the rivers.

Something that's new this year and should be a lot of fun is that the Quest has a new feature in the "starter" auction -- auction winners will ride in a tag sled behind their musher from the start chute to a drop-off point a few miles up the river, on Fort Wainwright.  All of the money that's been raised from the auction is going directly into the purse.

I think that from a spectator perspective it ought to be a very good race.  For one thing, the coverage should be excellent.  The outstanding Suitcase Media crew will be back, providing photographs and video from the trail, and both KUAC and the News-Miner will have reporters covering the race from the trail as well.  Tracking reliability should be much improved, with Trackleaders now putting two trackers on each sled and splicing the data streams together.

Note that I've got a running Twitter search for Quest-related tweets in a panel on the right side of this page.  Twitter can be an excellent place to pick up information not available elsewhere.

The Quest has a new website, which means that they'll also have a new data display.  I have no idea what to expect as it's not up yet, but I'm hoping that it's going to be data-crunching friendly.  In the meantime I'll be keeping (and publishing) my own spreadsheets, as usual, so watch for that information to be posted.

One piece of really good news for fans is that the Quest 300 is going to be tracked.  It should be a top-notch race this year.  As usual there are folks doing the race as a Quest or Iditarod qualifier, but we've also got some ringers in there.  With Aliy Zirkle and Sebastian Schnuelle in there, as well as a few less well-known but fast teams (keep an eye on Heidi Sutter, Shaynee Seipke, and while Ryne Olson is running a young team she could do quite well), it could be a quite exciting race.

So here's what I'm thinking right now ...  The first thing is that the trail is very hard and very fast (Scott Chesney has described our trails in Two Rivers as "frictionless") and frankly I'm expecting to see a lot of dropped dogs.  I also think that mushers who provide excellent dog care will have an advantage.  Teams that go out fast and hard may regret it later.

Anything can happen (and probably will!), but it looks like Allen Moore is going into the race in excellent shape and is a good bet to repeat.  Brent Sass and Ken Anderson could both have an excellent year, Mike Ellis is going to surprise a few people, and unless he overdoes the first half of the race I think a lot of people outside of Alaska or who don't follow the mid-distance races are likely to be wondering where that Matt Hall guy came from by the time the race is entering the Yukon.  Also keep an eye on Cody Strathe - Team Squid had an excellent Copper Basin, another tough race with difficult trail conditions.

Purebred fans should note that there are three Siberian Husky teams in the race this year, which is a relatively high percentage.  The teams are Mike Ellis, Tony Angelo, and Hank DeBruin.  Both Hank and Mike are race veterans, and this is Tony's first Quest.

This is also a race where learning what's available from the Trackleaders interface could help provide a lot of insight into what's going on on the trail that's not available from just looking at locations on a map.  Mushers' individual pages can give you insight into run/rest schedules and a better handle on speeds while moving, and as always the race flow plot allows you to get some understanding of the dynamics of the race.

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