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CIRCLE CITY - Zack Steer of Sheep Mountain kept his lead Monday in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, leaving several competitors behind in the Circle City checkpoint.
Steer, 30, left the Circle City checkpoint at 2:15 p.m. after nearly an eight-hour rest and headed for Eagle 158 miles away. Steer is a Yukon Quest rookie, though he has run the Iditarod before. Steer won this year's Copper Basin 300.
Two-time defending champions Hans Gatt of Atlin, British Columbia, was in second place and left the Circle City checkpoint a little more than three hours later.
As of 9:30 p.m. Monday, 12 mushers had reached the Circle City checkpoint but only Steer and Gatt had moved back onto the trail. Mark May of North Pole was the third musher to arrive in Circle City, but he scratched from the race soon afterward.
Following May into the checkpoint were Sebastian Schneulle of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory; former champion Frank Turner of Whitehorse; Dan Kaduce of Chatanika; David Dalton of Healy; two-time winner John Schandelmeier of Paxson; Peter Ledwidge of Dawson City, Yukon Territory; Kelley Griffin of Wasilla; Marcel Marin of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories; Thomas Tetz of Tagish, Yukon Territory; and Catherine Pinard of Whitehorse.
Tetz, who is in 11th place, is driving a team of dogs owned by Juneau's Deborah Bicknell, who has a training camp in Tagish.
From Circle City, the Quest trail follows 175 miles along the Yukon River in what is often an exposed, windy stretch. There's a hospitality stop at Slaven's cabin, which is 60 miles from Circle City, but the next official checkpoint is Eagle.
From Eagle, the mushers have their third of four major climbs on the trail, up American Summit. From there, the trail makes a sharp descent to Dawson City, Yukon Territory, before heading over King Solomon's Dome, the highest point of the trail at 3,800 feet. The mushers take a mandatory 36-hour layover in Dawson City, which is the first checkpoint on the Canadian part of the trail
Veteran musher William Kleedehn of Carcross, Yukon Territory, was forced to scratch Sunday after breaking his leg when he fell on a patch of ice. Kleedehn, who lost part of his left leg to a motorcycle accident several years ago, broke what he called "the good part of his bad leg." He broke the leg just above where his prosthesis wraps around his stump.
Since Kleedehn scratched, six other mushers have pulled out of the race. Joining Kleedehn on the sidelines are Jack Berry of Salcha, Paul Geoffrion of Whitehorse, Terry Asbury of Healy, Gwen Holdmann of Fairbanks, Emil Inauen of Davos, Switzerland, and May.
The Quest began Saturday with a field of 31 mushers heading from Fairbanks to Whitehorse 1,026 miles away.
For more updates, go to the Yukon Quest's Web site at http://www.yukonquest.com.