Seizing the lead in the final stretch, Brad George of Wasilla and Robby Schachle of Big Lake captured their first Iron Dog championship Saturday in Big Lake.
The pair surged into the lead in the final hour of the weeklong snowmachine race across Alaska, which started last Saturday in Big Lake. The race covered 2,474 miles of trail, with stops in Nome, Kotzebue and several other towns and villages.
George and Schachle were the second team to leave Skwentna on Saturday morning. They departed 39 minutes after Casey Boylan of Anchorage and Bryan Leslie of Wasilla, and they more than made up the gap in the final 80 miles.
The winners, riding Ski-Doo snowmachines, reached the finish line at Burkeshore Marina at 12:23 p.m. It was the second straight Iron Dog win and the seventh in 10 years for Ski-Doo.
Boylan and Leslie, the leaders throughout Friday, finished second at 12:55 p.m. aboard Polaris snowmachines. Mike Morgan of Nome and Chris Olds of Eagle River, also riding Polaris, placed third at 1:13 p.m.
George-Schachle averaged 49.05 mph, Boylan-Leslie averaged 48.54 mph and Morgan-Olds averaged 47.59.
George, 26, and Schachle, 34, hit much higher speeds than that during their final push to the finish line, where the temperature was in single digits. Much lower temperatures were registered on the Yentna River.
The top two teams were both chasing their first Iron Dog title, and George and Schachle grabbed control while Boylan and Leslie were stopped at the Big Swamp, according to the PA announcer at the finish line. About 25 minutes later, George and Schachle crossed the finish line.
A small crowd of about a hundred clustered at the finish line to welcome their arrival. Others watched from nearby vehicles.
The victory came in the fourth race of the George-Schachle partnership, and it marks a steady rise up the standings.
They finished third in 2016 — Schachle’s rookie run — and second in 2018. George did last year’s race with Tyler Johnson and was in second place when his sled went through the ice about 150 miles from the finish line.
In Nome, where teams took a daylong break to work on their machines and rest up for the final 1,400 miles of racing, Schachle said he and his partner have a friendly, comfortable relationship on the trail.
“Brad and I are like brothers,” he said in a race update posted earlier in the week on the Iron Dog website. “We haven’t had an argument yet, and you hear about that happening. We just joke and laugh even when we are riding.”