French musher Nicolas Petit and his dogs coasted into the Iditarod’s Unalakleet checkpoint yesterday morning with a healthy lead of over five hours. As Petit left the checkpoint and turned onto the Bering Sea coast for the final 200 miles of the race, his 14-mile lead probably felt like a dominant gap, and the Anchorage Daily News called him the “clear favorite” to win. Unfortunately, it’s all gone to shit.
This morning, GPS tracking data showed that Petit’s team crawled to a halt a few miles outside of the Shelter Cabin after running for only 12 miles after leaving the checkpoint in Shaktoolik. He clearly didn’t intend to stop on open sea ice, and both Pete Kaiser and Joar Leifseth Ulsom passed him while he was stopped.
Petit was also leading the Iditarod out of Shaktoolik last year, but he lost the race after losing the trail and taking a wrong turn. Petit wasn’t undone by a navigational mishap this year; instead, his dogs got too pissed off at each other to run. He told Iditarod Insider in an interview (via KTUU) that things started to break down when one of his dogs, Joey, took a bathroom break (Petit didn’t specify what kind). Joey’s unscheduled deposit drew the ire of an older dog who, per Petit, “got a hold of him at one point, he jumped on him while he was on the ground.”
“Everybody heard daddy yelling. Which doesn’t happen. And then they wouldn’t go anymore. Anywhere,” Petit said, “So we camped here.” Petit stressed that none of his dogs had any physical ailments, and that his team’s long, surprising break was simply a “head thing.” Losing because a dog got mad at another dog over a poop (possibly) is a pretty brutal turn of fate, but having it happen in the same place as your own race-ending mishap from a year earlier is so much worse.