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Iditarod withdraws pair of last-place teams for lagging too far behind

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: March 15, 2018
  • Published March 15, 2018

Dogs on the team of rookie musher Tara Cicatello charge down 4th Avenue during the ceremonial start March 3 in Anchorage. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

The two mushers vying for the Iditarod's Red Lantern — awarded annually to the last team to reach Nome — were withdrawn from the race Thursday night for not making adequate progress, race officials reported.

The race ended in Unalakleet for Steve Watkins of Topeka, Kansas, and Tara Cicatello of Buffalo, New York.

They are 261 miles away from the finish line of the 1,000-mile race and 90 miles from the race's next-slowest teams, two checkpoints ahead in Koyuk.

According to a press release, both mushers and their teams are in good health and both wanted to continue their run to Nome.

Race marshal Mark Nordman made the decision to pull them out based on the race's rule regarding competitiveness.

"Both Tara and Steve faced very tough conditions along the Yukon River, which led to them falling behind in the race field," Nordman said in a press release from the race. "Due to this distance behind the rest of the field, it unfortunately was not feasible to keep the infrastructure in place to support their race efforts going forward."

Watkins, who finished the 2015 race in 58th place, had 12 dogs in his team. Cicatello, a rookie, was running 13 dogs.

The pair left Kaltag within 13 minutes of each other Thursday morning. They traveled the 85 miles to Unalakleet in roughly 15 hours and 30 minutes — a faster run-time than more than 30 mushers ahead of them.

Rob Cooke rests in the Nikolai checkpoint on March 7. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Meanwhile, a musher who battled bison and another who battled a stomach bug are among the latest to scratch from the Iditarod.

Marcelle Fressineau — a two-time finisher from Whitehorse who early in the race chased off three bison with an ax and cries of "Go away!" – ended her race Thursday afternoon in Shaktoolik. She was running 12 dogs when she decided to scratch.

Rob Cooke, who is also a two-time finisher from Whitehorse, got sick early in the race and contemplated scratching as early as Nikolai, 263 miles into the 1,000-mile race to Nome. He said he threw up several times on the run into Nikolai.

"I've got a really bad stomach bug and extremely bad diarrhea," he said while resting at the checkpoint last week.

Cooke called it quits Wednesday night at Kaltag. He had left the checkpoint at midday Tuesday and spent the night at the Tripod Flats cabin, where he sought help by activating his tracking device. Kaltag residents helped Cooke and his 12 dogs return to the checkpoint.

Also dropping out of the race Thursday was Alan Eischens, a 57-year-old three-time finisher from Wasilla.

Eischens, who mushes to raise awareness for pediatric diseases, injured his arm and scratched in Koyuk, according to Iditarod officials. He had 14 dogs in harness.

As of 9 p.m. Thursday, 26 of the 67 teams that started the race March 4 in Willow have reached the finish line.

In addition to the withdrawal of Watkins and Cicatello, 11 other mushers have scratched, leaving 28 teams on the trail.

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