Start location changed for scaled-back Iditarod

ANCHORAGE (AP) — Officials with the scaled-back Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday announced another change for the 2021 competition.

The world’s most famous sled dog race will start and end from Deshka Landing, a year-round access point to nearby rivers about 7 miles (11 kilometers) away from the normal starting location in the Alaska community of Willow.

Construction at the community center in Willow forced the move.

Officials announced last month that the race, which is normally about 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers), has been shortened to 860 miles (1,384 kilometers) and will not end as normal on the Bering Sea coast in Nome because of pandemic concerns.

Instead, the race will start March 7 at Deshka Landing. Mushers and their teams will travel to the ghost town of Flat and then loop back to Deshka Landing.

Other changes have been implemented because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Every musher must test negative for the coronavirus before the race begins. They will also be tested again during the race. Facial coverings and social distancing will be mandated at checkpoints, according to race officials.

Ten mushers, including defending champion Thomas Waerner of Norway, have dropped out of this year’s race, leaving 54 teams in the race.

That’s among the three smallest fields in the last two decades, and all in the last three years. Last year, 57 teams started the race and 33 finished. In 2019, 52 teams began the race.

Planning to participate this year are four former champions, including Dallas Seavey, Martin Buser, Pete Kaiser and Joar Leifseth Ulsom.

Anchorage typically hosts the ceremonial start day before the competitive start.

“The Iditarod is working with the Municipality of Anchorage regarding the ceremonial start and will provide updates as they arise,” according to a statement emailed Tuesday to The Associated Press from the Iditarod.