Osmar sticks with Yukon Quest leaders

With 177 miles left to race, rough trail keeps front-runners from taking decisive lead

Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2001

CIRCLE (AP) -- A rough trail was preventing any of the front-runners in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog race from breaking from the pack Wednesday.

Four mushers arrived within minutes of each other in Central, 177 miles from the finish in Fairbanks. Tim Osmar of Clam Gulch was the first to arrive at 12:37 p.m., followed by David Sawatzky of Healy at 12:42 p.m., William Kleedehn of Carcross, Yukon Territory, at 12:45 p.m. and Andrew Lesh of Fairbanks at 12:50 p.m.

''It kind of goes back and forth, really. I mean for a couple of hours Dave might be faster or for a couple of hours I might be faster. And William, he's always there, you can't shake him,'' Osmar said.

Joran Freeman of Two Rivers was fifth at 2:07 p.m.

Ten of the 31 teams that began the race in Whitehorse on Feb. 11 have scratched. Hugh Neff of Fairbanks was disqualified for refusing to stay in the Eagle checkpoint and tend to his dogs' sore feet.

The front-runners had settled in for a planned layover at the previous checkpoint in Circle, when Lesh made an unsuccessful attempt to take the lead. He threw some straw and a few bags of food on his sled and headed back down the trail, ending what has been a four-man camping trip among the leaders.

Osmar, who is a favorite to win the 1,000 mile race, reacted by saying it was time to get serious about the race.

The trail is fraught with jumbled ice worse than many mushers have ever seen.

''I survived,'' Kleedehn said when asked how the trail treated him. ''I'm here in one piece. There were areas that were beyond anything that racing sled dogs should ever encounter.''

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