March 12, 2019 / 10:16 AM / 4 months ago

Lead Iditarod sledder quits race when his dogs won't mush

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Stuck on ice with dogs that refused to mush, lead Iditarod sledder Nicolas Petit dropped from the famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race late Monday.

Nicolas Petit checks his dogs before the ceremonial start of the 47th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kerry Tasker/Files

An early favorite in the world’s best-known dog-sled race, Petit had been stuck for most of the day with his dogs on a section of Bering Sea ice about 200 miles from the finish line in Nome. The dogs refused to move, and Petit ultimately had them taken off the trail by snowmobile.

“Petit scratched in the best interest of his race team’s mental well-being,” said a statement released by Iditarod race managers.

The 1,000-mile race started on March 2 in Anchorage. The winner will take home about $50,000 and a new truck, part of a total race purse of $500,000.

Fifty-two mushers started the race. As of Monday night, seven, including Petit, had dropped out.

The winner is expected in Nome sometime early Wednesday.

The new Iditarod leaders as of Monday night were Pete Kaiser of Bethel, Alaska; Joar Leifseth Ulsom, a Norwegian musher who won last year’s race; and Jessie Royer of Fairbanks.

Kaiser, who is Yupik, would be the first Alaska Native musher to win the Iditarod since 2011. As of late Monday, he was at the village of Elim, about 120 miles from the Nome finish line.

Royer would be the first woman to win the race since 1990, when Susan Butcher claimed her fourth victory.

Petit ran into trouble last year in nearly the same spot of the Bering Sea Coast when he was in position to win the 2018 race. But Petit, a French musher who lives in the Alaska ski community of Girdwood, got lost in a snowstorm. Leisfeth Ulsom passed him, and Petit wound up in second place.

This year’s collapse was precipitated by a dog fight, Petit told race officials. The troubles started when a dog named Joee jumped on a younger dog, Petit said in a video posted on the Iditarod’s website.

“I yelled at Joee. And everybody heard Daddy yelling. It doesn’t happen. And then they wouldn’t go anymore. Anywhere. So we camped here,” he said in the interview, conducted Monday morning on the Bering Sea coast.

Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage, Alaska; additional writing by Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Larry King

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