FAIRBANKS -- Todd Minnick and Nick Olstad are back on top of the Iron Dog.
The Wasilla mushers claimed the championship in the rugged 2,000-mile snowmachine race on Saturday, cruising across the finish line on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks at 12:09 p.m. They beat defending champs Marc McKenna and Dusty VanMeter by 22 minutes. Mike Morgan and Chris Olds finished third.
Minnick and Olstad previously won the race in 2009. They claimed the $50,000 top prize for the victory.
"It feels good to be on top again," Olstad said with a grin at the finish line.
The charmed run almost didn't happen for the Polaris riders. Olstad had a 102-degree fever a few days before the race, and the pair didn't decide until last Sunday -- the day the race began at Big Lake -- that he was healthy enough to run.
It was a good decision.
With some help from ibuprofen and antibiotics, Olstad gutted through the race, despite a steady cough on the Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks run. The pair took the lead on Friday, entering the Tanana checkpoint 22 minutes ahead of McKenna and VanMeter.
McKenna said he and VanMeter left Tanana knowing it would be hard to catch the leaders unless they made a mistake in the last 300 miles.
"There's really not any strategy," he said. "You're just not going to make up half an hour on a fast team."
Minnick and Olstad averaged 55 mph over the 2,031-mile course. They spent 36 hours, 58 minutes, 37 seconds on the trail.
Although a bumpy trail improved as it approached Fairbanks, the teams had to endure frigid conditions as they passed through the Manley area, with temperatures approaching 50 below.
Minnick and Olstad both arrived in Fairbanks with black duct tape on their noses, which Olstad said was the only thing sparing him from a bad case of frostbite.
The only consolation during the clear, frigid run was a spectacular aurora display as they traveled down the Yukon River early Saturday morning.
"I can't say enough how cold it was," Olstad said. "You can only imagine."
For much of the race, a rugged snowless trail also provided a challenge. Iron Dog executive director Kevin Kastner described much of the course as "brutal," but said such challenges are simply part of the grueling race.
"That's the thing about the Iron Dog," Kastner said. "Unless it's impassible, we run."
Just minutes after crossing the finish line, Minnick was looking forward to defending his title.
"The good Lord willing, we'll be back," he said.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.
1) Minnick-Olstad 36 hours, 58 minutes, 37 seconds; 2) McKenna-VanMeter 37:20:28; 3) Morgan-Olds 37:50:58; 4) George-George 38:59:56; 5) Dick-Quam 39:29:33; 6) Agnes-Marks 40:16:02; 7) Barber-Sottosanti 42:15:09; 8) Dow-Lessard 42:18:52; 9) Davis-Simons 42:45:06; 10) Bunke-Faeo 44:09:40; 11) Beetus-Folsom 45:07:06; 12) Boney-Laraux 46:03:43; 13) Conner-Vaughn 48:05:14; 14) Plumb-Starr 50:01:34; 15) Lie-Schaeffer-Schaeffer 50:38:35; 16) Delimont-Jones 53:18:37; 17) Price-Smith 56:26:13; 18) Demientieff-Walker 58:29:01; 19) Johnson-Potter 62:36:53; 20) Gardner-Milley 66:02:49; 21) Daley-Easterling 70:15:47; 22) Fuller-Kinn 73:42:34; 23) Hartley-LaBarbera 77:30:38. Still on trail as of 5 p.m. Saturday -- Donovan-Hopson.