Zirkle becomes first woman to win Yukon Quest

Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2000

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Alaska musher Aliy Zirkle has become the first woman to win the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

The 30-year-old musher from Two Rivers crossed the finish line in Takhini Hot Springs, Yukon Territory, at 9:59 a.m. (AST) behind a team of nine dogs. She finished the 1,000-mile race in 10 days, 22 hours and 7 minutes.

Her victory comes 15 years after Libby Riddles became the first woman to win Alaska's more famous mushing event, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

She takes home $30,000 for the victory. The total purse is $125,000, with prize money paid to the first 15 finishers.

Zirkle dominated much of the second half of the race across some of the most sparsely populated land in North America. She told reporters at the finish line that she felt confident that she would win when she reached the Dawson City checkpoint, about 450 miles back, but kept racing.

``I didn't really want to be too big-headed,'' said an exhausted Zirkle. She had left the final checkpoint, Braeburn Lodge, shortly after 2 a.m. and ran the final 80-mile leg of the race through the night as the temperature dipped to about 10 degrees below zero.

``I had a plan going into the whole thing,'' Zirkle said. ``We stuck to that plan and that put me an hour or so ahead of everyone else.''

Thomas Tetz of Tagish, Yukon Territory. had been as much as two hours behind Zirkle as the race wound down, but he managed to narrow the gap. He finished a half-hour behind Zirkle to claim a check for $24,000.

The race from Fairbanks normally ends in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, but unusually warm temperatures forced race organizers to shorten the race by about 25 miles, due to open water on the Yukon River trail near Whitehorse.

Juneau rookie musher Deborah Bicknell was still bringing up the rear in the race today. Bicknell, who is running in 22nd place, left Dawson City at 10:35 a.m. AST on Tuesday and was expected into the dog drop of Stewart River/Scroggie Creek sometime this afternoon. Stewart River is 101 miles from Dawson City and 102 miles from the next checkpoint at Pelly Crossing.

Seven of the 29 mushers who started the race have scratched.

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