At this stage of the race, you might as well be listening to the famous Abbott and Costello skit where race guru’s like Danny Seavey explain who's really in first.

The GPS trackers tell one story of who is leading; the race standings tell a different story, and mathematicians/race strategist will tell a third story. About the only time I can tell you with certainty who's in first is at the Burled Arch in Nome.

This uncertainty is due to myriad factors including the staggered start (two minutes between each progressive starting team) and the subsequent time adjustment during the mandatory 24-hour rest break explained in an earlier blog.

The 24-hour rest can be taken at any checkpoint along the race trail, and as some mushers stop early for their 24-hour rest, others will pass them, taking a temporary lead. When the new leaders take their 24-hour rest, they will take their turn being passed.

This cycle will then be repeated with one of the mandatory 8-hour rests along the Yukon River. A micro-version of this occurs multiple times a day as teams leapfrog due to their varying lengths of run, rest and overall trail running speeds.

Currently, Joar Leifseth Ulsom leads the race, according to both the GPS and race standings. However, that may not be entirely accurate.

McGrath is the one checkpoint most top mushers have checked into that allows the above variables to be factored into determining “real” standings. My rough calculations have reigning champion Mitch Seavey leading the race by a hair over Joar and Nicolas Petit.

As mushers come out of their 24-hour rest this year, they could be greeted by increasing wind speeds-- gusting up to 25 mph-- and up to 3” of snow as they approach Grayling. This will dramatically impact the trail and their traveling speeds.

If a team is able to come out of their 24 and get out ahead of this storm, they would have a virtual smoke screen thrown up behind them helping distance them from their competitors. However, if they don’t time it right--or Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate-- they could end up doing all the heavy lifting by breaking trail for the teams following behind who will be able to conserve energy and benefit from another team's misfortune.

Joar was gambling by breaking out ahead; only time will tell if his gamble will pay off.

For me, it’s a bit too early to gamble and make a prediction. I have my sentimental favorites out there I will always root for; I have “kids” I’ve watched grow into this race I would love to see take that next step, and there are a few grizzled veterans who wouldn’t surprise me with a crafty move to steal the show.

By the time the race hits the coast, the predictions may blow in with the coastal winds.

Bryan Bearss trained Iditarod race teams full time from 2003 to 2009 and raced the Iditarod in 2006 and 2015. He is currently an elementary school teacher and marathon canoe racer. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not of KTVA 11 News. 

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