Quest rookie Mackey wins by a whisker

Musher finishes race eight minutes ahead of Kleedehn

Posted: Friday, February 25, 2005

FAIRBANKS - Lance Mackey of Kasilof won the 2005 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race on Thursday, crossing the finish line in Fairbanks shortly after 1 p.m. following a late charge from Canada's William Kleedehn, who came in second.

Mackey, a cancer survivor, is the son of 1978 Iditarod champion Dick Mackey and younger brother of 1997 Quest champion Rick Mackey. He finished at 1:12 p.m., followed eight minutes later by Kleedehn. Skagway's Hugh Neff was the third across the finish line, at 2:30 p.m.

Mackey covered the 1,026-mile Quest trail in 11 days, 32 minutes. The race record is 10 days, 16 hours, 20 minutes - by Frank Turner in 1995 - while the closest margin of victory is five minutes, in 1991.

Mackey, 34, is the first new champion in four years. Canadian Hans Gatt, who had won the previous three Quests, did not enter this year. Mackey entered the finish chute with nine of the 14 dogs he started with when the race began Feb. 13 in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

Mackey is also the first rookie to win the Quest since Lavon Barve accomplished the feat in 1994 - but he is no newcomer to long-distance sled dog racing, having twice finished the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The race's final leg was a nearly 100-mile run starting at Angel Creek Lodge near the end of Chena Hot Springs Road. Mackey was the first out of Angel Creek at 4:12 a.m. Thursday, the earliest he could leave after a mandatory eight-hour layover that all mushers must take at the checkpoint. He led a tight pack of four mushers, who were separated by just over an hour as they began passing through the Chena Lakes Recreation Area shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday.

As they drew closer to Fairbanks and the end of the race, Mackey passed under the Nordale Road bridge, 15 miles from the finish line, just 14 minutes ahead of race veteran Kleedehn of Carcross, Yukon Territory, who had trailed Mackey by half an hour at Chena Lakes.

After Mackey, Kleedehn and Neff, David Dalton of Healy was the next to finish, at 3:01 p.m., and Jon Little of Kasilof - another Quest rookie who had led much of the race - finished at 3:50 p.m. Little held the lead out of the Circle and Central checkpoints, but race officials reported Little's team balked while climbing Eagle Summit, the second-highest point on the Quest trail. No other mushers had crossed the finish line as of 9 p.m. Tuesday.

About 500 people showed up to watch the finish. Mackey will take home $30,000 for his victory, while Kleedehn will receive $24,000.

Neff will collect four ounces of placer gold as the first musher to reach the race's Dawson City checkpoint. Neff had to complete the race to claim the prize.

This year's field, at 21 teams, was among the smallest in race history. As of Thursday afternoon, nine teams had scratched from the race, leaving 12 to divvy up prize money that usually is shared among the top 15 to complete the race.

Dan Kaduce of Chatanika was the latest musher to scratch, late Wednesday at Central. He had been suffering from the flu.

Gerry Willomitzer was leading the mushers remaining on the trail, departing North Pole - just 32 miles from Fairbanks - at 6:06 p.m. Thursday. Mushers Frank Turner, Ed Hopkins, John Schandelmeier, Sebastian Schnuelle and Peter Ledwidge were at Angel Creek on Tuesday evening, while Quest rookie Blake Freking was approaching Angel Creek. The last musher to reach Fairbanks will receive the race's red lantern award.

For updates, look on the race's Web site at www.yukonquest.com.



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