Reigning Mount Marathon champion and race record-holder David Norris will not defend his crown Tuesday. Last year's runner-up, Nick Elson, is a no-go too. And while returning third-place finisher Eric Strabel will race, the three-time champion and former record-holder does not rate himself a contender.
Also, past champion and record-holder Kilian Jornet will not be in Seward. Ditto for Rickey Gates, the two-time runner-up who finished fifth last year.
So, most signs for victory point to one man in the 90th running of the Fourth of July race up and down the forbidding peak overlooking Resurrection Bay in Seward.
Looking at you, Scott Patterson.
"Kind of looks that way,'' Patterson said.
Patterson, 25, of Anchorage, is a nordic skier with Olympic ambitions. He's also an exceptional mountain runner, as evidenced by his fourth-place debut at Mount Marathon last year, as well as his victories at Government Peak and Bird Ridge this year.
And he's being pegged as the prohibitive favorite for the roughly 3-mile race, most of which takes place on a mountain with an average pitch of 34 degrees that makes for a grinding, torturous uphill and a wicked-fast downhill.
"Unless there's a surprise, I assume Scott can run a strong uphill and get a win,'' Norris said.
Works for Patterson.
"Ideally, I'd like to build a massive lead on the uphill, then take the downhill how it comes,'' Patterson said.
Patterson last year was second-fastest to the top of the mountain in 31 minutes, 51 seconds, behind Norris' remarkable 30:35 ascent that stands as the fastest in history and served as the springboard to his record-setting finish in 41:26. Patterson's uphill time was the fifth-fastest since accurate records began being recorded in 2006.
His downhill did not go so smoothly, though. He tweaked his ankle time and again, and finally dialed back his descent. His downhill time (12:53) was just the 34th-fastest in the field. Still, his 44:43 marked a terrific debut – only 18 men have run sub-45 in race history.
"I had a rough time,'' Patterson said. "But overall, it was a cool experience, coming off the cliff (at mountain's base) and having the crowds erupt.''
Patterson said he's not putting any pressure on himself. His motto: "Go out and have fun.''
Strabel, who has finished in the top four in seven of the last eight races, likes Patterson's chances.
"As long as Scott does what he does on the uphill and does good in the downhill – no disasters – I think it's his race,'' Strabel said. "I think he's as fit as he's ever been and as fit as anyone has been for this race.''
And fitness, Strabel said, is paramount in a race so difficult a racer can't hope simply having a good day will suffice.
"Fitness is by far the No. 1 thing you have to have in your bag,'' he said. "This mountain has a very cruel way of snapping (anyone) out of any fantasy delusions.''
With an Olympic year approaching, Patterson doesn't want to risk injury on the downhill and thinks he'll be fine – prudent, but fine. His ski career remains his first priority.
Norris, who recently endured some knee irritation, said he's skipping the race because his knee feels much better and he wants to keep it that way by focusing on his ski training.
Elson is out after suffering illness while recovering from a recent ultramarathon. Mount Marathon isn't on Jornet's schedule after he twice speed-summited Mount Everest this spring and Gates is currently covering his TransAmericana run across the country.
As for Strabel, 35, he said his legs didn't respond well to his training in spring and he's looking forward to a relaxed, no-pressure race after putting his all into Mount Marathon for most of the last decade.
"If you're looking for a show,'' he said with a laugh, "I think you should look elsewhere.''
Looking at you, Scott Patterson.