FAIRBANKS — Call it a training run with one sweet victory at the end.
Willow musher Dallas Seavey claimed two titles Tuesday night: 2011 Yukon Quest champion and rookie of the year. Seavey said from the beginning the Quest was just preparation for the 2011 Iditarod.
“I think we’re ready for the Iditarod,” he told a cheering crowd of several hundred people gathered on the Chena River.
Seavey ran through the finish chute at 11:05 p.m. just minutes off his planned arrival. He said earlier in the race that he didn’t think he could win it.
“But there are things you can’t anticipate,” he said.
Cold weather and tough trail conditions made racing difficult for the 25 mushers who started the race in Dawson on Feb. 5. In 10 days, 11 mushers have scratched or withdrawn from the 1,000 mile race.
But his plan of running laid back and easy — then gradually racing aggressively — paid off. He finished with 10 dogs in 10 days, 11 hours and 53 minutes.
The last rookie to win the race was Lance Mackey in 2005. He was at the finish to congratulate Seavey.
“It’s been a while since a rookie won this,” Mackey told Seavey in the chute.
Seavey, 23, is one of the youngest — if not the youngest — to win the race. His finish also was one the closest. Seavey had just left the chute when runner-up and 2009 champion Sebastian Schnuelle crossed the finish line 33 minutes later.
Coming out of Two Rivers, the race to the finish was on. Seavey was the first musher out of the checkpoint 75 miles from Fairbanks, followed by Fox musher Ken Anderson 13 minutes later.
Both Seavey and Anderson passed quickly through the Mile 101 checkpoint Monday night, Anderson maybe a little too fast. He initially was given a two-hour penalty for not correctly signing out of Mile 101. Race Marshall Hans Oettli reduced it to 30 minutes after learning that the checkpoint team had not been aware of the proper procedure. However, it is still the mushers responsibility to sign out.
Anderson was the first out of Mile 101 and the first into Two Rivers at 4:23 a.m., where each musher has a mandatory eight-hour rest. The 30-minute penalty pushed Anderson’s start time 13 minutes after Seavey.
Schnuelle was the third out, about half an hour behind Anderson. Schnuelle elected to rest in Mile 101 after being the first over Eagle Summit. After looking at his dogs he decided they needed more time to prepare for the trail. Mushers reported good conditions but noted that it was no easy trek and includes 3,640-foot tall Rosebud Summit.
“Funny enough, if I could do the same decision again I would still do it,” he said before leaving Two Rivers. “It just didn’t feel right to leave right away.”
Schnuelle made quick time on Anderson and passed him 15 miles out of Two Rivers. He admitted he was gunning for second. He said his dog team is old and that he’s not in the best shape.
“Dallas is fit, he’s young. I’m not fit,” he said. “I eat too much junk food.”
Brent Sass left Two Rivers at 4:07 p.m. Tuesday and was expected into Fairbanks early this morning. Kelly Griffin was expected out of Two Rivers at 3:37 a.m.
Almost all mushers had made it into the Circle City checkpoint. Hank DeBruin was the only one on the way, leaving Slaven’s Roadhouse — 101 miles from Circle — Tuesday afternoon.
With the top 15 finishers receiving prize money, every one who finishes is guaranteed something from the purse.
Contact features writer Suzanna Caldwell at 459-7504.