As the calendar flipped from '09 to 2010, so too did the early incentive deadline pass for mushers signing up for the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race.
"It's a nice field," said Brandi Little, president of the T-200 race association.
As of Tuesday, there are 16 teams signed up for the 200-mile race, another four signed up for the T-100 race, and one youngster on the list for the 50-mile Junior T race.
"I don't know everyone's intentions," Little said, "but it looks like there are a few teams running to get training miles for Iditarod, and it looks like there's a few teams running to win."
Typically closer to 30 teams is the average for the T-200, but Little said there is still time for the field to grow before the final sign-up deadline on Jan. 15.
"It's not a huge field right now," she said. "We usually have around 26 to 27 teams by the start, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if we had 10 teams sign up at the last minute."
Tami Murray, the T-200 executive director, said the race roster might not be as large as it could be, but it is already stacked with some high caliber teams.
"I think it'll be pretty competitive," Murray said. "Cim (Smyth) and Lance (Mackey) will both be back."
Smyth, of Big Lake, was last year's T-200 champion, and a past winner from the 2004 race. Mackey, of Fairbanks, in addition to being the Iditarod champion three years running, was also the 2008 T-200 champ. He was right on Smyth's heals at the end of last year's race.
"They were just separated by two minutes," she said.
Also, these two mushers have already claimed victories in the first two mid-distance dog races of the season: Smyth in the Alaska Excursion 120 in mid-December, and Mackey in the Gin Gin 200 at the end of last month.
"It should be exciting to watch how they do again in this year's race," Murray said.
This year's T-100 will also see some serious mushing talent as Paul Gebhardt, of Kasilof, a two-time Iditarod runner up and the T-200 winner in 1996 and '97, will be running the 100 mile race.
"Paul will be running the Kuskokwim 300 in Bethel the week before," Murray said.
As such, putting a team in the T-200 so close to such another big race would be very demanding on the dogs.
"I feel it would be a little too much," Gebhardt said, but added the 100-mile race should make for a good training run for the Iditarod without overdoing it.
"The T-100 is a perfect training run for a team that you don't want to race real, real hard," he said.
The trail conditions are also shaping up nicely for this year's race according to trail coordinator Kevin Fulton. He did some preliminary trail work on some of the lesser-used trails for the race on Monday.
"It's looking good," he said. "Up high the snow is very deep, about 5 feet in some places we worked, so now we just need a little more down low, or to at least not lose what we've already got."
While the mushers and trail are falling into place, more help is needed to put the race on.
"We're still looking for more volunteers," Murray said. "We'd like to have a good turnout of people. The checkpoints are full, but we still need people at the start and to help out with vet checks."
For anyone interested volunteering for the race, there will be an informative meeting Saturday at 5 p.m. at Rocky's Cafe in Kasilof.
This year's race is scheduled to begin Jan. 23 at 11 a.m. at Mile 112 of the Sterling Highway. For more information on the race, visit the T-200 Web site at www.tustumena200.com.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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