A favorite to win the Iditarod sled dog race, a nearly 1,000 mile arctic haul across Alaska from Nome to Anchorage, dropped out of the event Monday less than 200 miles from the finish line because his dogs refused to continue.
Nicolas Petit of Girdwood, Alaska, and his 10 dogs were just off the Shaktoolik check point on a stretch of Bering Sea ice when a disagreement between two dogs, a veteran and a younger dog, caused the sled to pause, then completely halt, when Petit raised his voice to discipline the animals.
The 38-year-old's sled earlier in the day left Shaktoolik in the lead "like a rocket," he told local television station KTUU. But then one of his dogs wanted to stop for a bathroom break and an older dog jumped on top of it in disagreement. Petit raised his voice and it spooked the rest of the team, which refused to mush.
"Everybody heard daddy yelling. Which doesn't happen. And then they wouldn't go anymore. Anywhere," he said to KTUU.
Petit took his dogs back to a cabin at Shaktoolik to rest, but later decided to drop out of the race entirely for the good of his dogs.
"They're all fine, they all ate good, no orthopedic issue. Just a head thing," he said Monday.
Last year, Petit held a lead of several hours when his bid for first place was scuttled while on the sea ice. Lost in a snowstorm, he navigated off course and lost precious time. He ultimately lost the race by 2 hours 15 minutes. Petit, a native of France, made his Iditarod debut in 2011 when he finished in 28th place and was named rookie of the year. His highest finish came last year when he placed second overall and he had been a top 10 finisher in four consecutive races before this year's event.
Of the 52 mushers who entered this year's race, which began March 2, 10 have dropped out as of Tuesday afternoon. Peter Kaiser and his eight dogs led the pack with two check points remaining. Defending champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom is 31 minutes behind in second place.