Update: 10:55 p.m. Brent Sass has won the 2015 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. The Eureka, Alaska, musher crossed the finish line in downtown Fairbanks at 10:52 p.m. Monday. Sass left the Two Rivers checkpoint 2 minutes after defending champion Allen Moore on Tuesday, but passed Moore on the trail, lengthening his lead as he neared Fairbanks.
Sass had built a nearly 10-hour lead over Moore earlier in the race, but lost most of that when he slept through his alarm on Birch Creek, turning a planned five-hour rest into one that nearly doubled it. Sass told Yukon Quest officials at the finish line, "It works! Fall asleep on the trail for 10 hours and you can come in first!"
Including the 4 ounces of gold nuggets Sass will collect for being the first musher into the halfway point on Dawson City, Yukon, he will collect nearly $30,000 for the win.
53 MILE CHENA HOT SPRINGS ROAD — After more than 900 miles, just two minutes separated the two leading mushers at the start of the final run toward victory in the 2015 Yukon Quest.
Allen Moore and Brent Sass launched the final 73-mile leg of the Yukon Quest on Monday afternoon, leaving the Two Rivers checkpoint headed toward downtown Fairbanks before a crowd of more than 100 people.
Moore, the two-time defending champion, left at 1:36 p.m. Sass, who led for much of the race, followed at 1:38 p.m. Each team was required to take a mandatory eight-hour layover in Two Rivers.
It typically takes about 10 hours to make the trip to Fairbanks, but both mushers said they’re preparing for a blazing run. Their sleds have been stripped of everything but the essentials, and they plan to spend as much time running behind their teams as standing on the runners.
The race will be on Moore’s home turf, taking a trail that the Two Rivers musher constantly uses in training runs.
He said his team should have the advantage, although he used the qualifier “if the dogs feel good” several times before setting off. Moore dropped two dogs at the checkpoint, leaving with 11 on his team.
“I couldn’t ask for more,” Moore said. “Now the dogs just have to perform.”
Sass enters the final leg with momentum after slicing a 29-minute margin to just 2 minutes heading into Two Rivers. Although he lost the lead on Sunday night when Moore blew through the Mile 101 checkpoint with only a brief rest, they were nearly even when they arrived at Two Rivers at about 5:30 a.m.
Sass said he made up much of that margin climbing over Rosebud Summit and was able to occasionally see Moore’s headlamp on the trail ahead moving toward Two Rivers. He leaves with the same 12 dogs he brought to Two Rivers.
The Eureka musher credited his surge to an episode that looked like a huge blunder the day before. He overslept during a rest outside Central, turning it into an unplanned nine-hour stop. The long stop was so unexpected that a race official traveled to Sass’ campsite to make sure he was OK.
A day later, it’s clear that both he and his dogs needed the break, Sass said. His team had more pep on the run to Two Rivers than it did for several days, he said.
“I don’t think I’d be sitting here right now if that rest hadn’t happened,” he said.
Moore said the race will likely come down to small details. Untangling a line will take enough time to create a quarter-mile gap, he said.
Moore and Sass left Two Rivers with the rest of the Quest field far behind. The next closest competitor, Tagish, Yukon, musher Ed Hopkins, was more than 40 miles behind when the final leg began.
The winner of the Quest will receive nearly $25,000, with the second-place musher taking home almost $18,000. As the first musher to Dawson City, Sass will also claim 4 ounces of gold — worth about $5,000 — when he crosses the finish line.
Follow staff writer Jeff Richardson on Twitter: @FDNMquest.