CIRCLE CITY (AP) -- Defending champion Hans Gatt had a six-hour lead Monday over his nearest competitor in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
By Monday evening, Gatt and his 10 dogs were the only team to have reached the Circle City checkpoint. He arrived at 2:55 p.m.
William Kleedehn of Carcross was in second place, followed by Thomas Tetz, also of Carcross. John Schandelmeier of Paxson was in third place, followed by Martin Massicotte of Quebec and Hugh Neff of Coldfoot. They were expected to reach Circle City sometime Monday night.
Most of the other teams remaining in the race were making the 98-mile run from Eagle to Slaven's Cabin.
Barring any problems, Gatt appeared headed for an easy victory in the 1,000-mile race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks. From Slaven's Cabin it's about 312 miles to the finish line.
If he does win, Gatt would become the first musher to score back-to-back victories in the Quest. He would also become only the third musher to win the race twice in its 20-year history. Only Charlie Boulding and John Schandelmeier have won the race twice.
The mushers were facing bitterly cold temperatures as a high pressure system from Siberia moved over Alaska. Temperatures were dropping to 45 below. That's in sharp contract to the mild temperatures they experienced early in the race when readings climbed to near 30 degrees.
''The cold's like your alarm clock. It kind of kicks you out of the sled,'' former champion Frank Turner said. ''It's a great motivator.''
Turner, the only musher to have entered every Quest since the first race in 1984, said this is not the coldest it has gotten on the Quest. One year in the late 1990s, Turner said it was 57 degrees below zero. Others have reported temperatures as low as 70 below in the Fortymile country.
''For me, the cold is just part of everything about the Quest,'' Turner said. ''You kind of accept it and take one step at a time and go down the road.''
Nineteen teams remain in the thousand-mile race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks. Paul Geoffrion was in last place, leaving Dawson City at 1:34 a.m. Monday.
To compensate for the cold weather, Gatt said he would have to stop more often to feed his 10 dogs and he has been adding more fat to their diets. However, he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner he should have packed warmer clothes, especially a better pair of boots.
The trail has become a lonely place for Gatt. He hasn't seen his friends -- fellow Canadians Kleedehn and Tetz along with French-Canadian Massicotte and Coldfoot musher Neff -- since the Taylor Highway Bridge about 50 miles outside of Eagle.
Instead, his team, led by Havana and Milos, have had to break through snow drifting over the trail.
''I can't wait five hours for someone to break trail,'' Gatt said.
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