They've gone! At 3.40 it was the big off at the mass start, all teams setting off together in lanes and coming together after a few hundred metres to turn a corner... Which can quite often turn into a mess! So the trick is to either go out super fast and get ahead or go slow and filter in with sensible teams who have control of their dogs. The first option is never really a good option as it exhausts the dogs immediately on this 83km trail. Having said that, Milos got quite a fast start which surprised me but may be he did it to avoid a tangle that he could see coming.
We have 9 dogs today and I notice a few others do too. They're all saving dogs for the last big stage tomorrow (overnight). Radek took 9, Jiri 8 (he's got a big time gap so can afford to rest dogs today and give away a few minutes, if indeed he does) and we think Pontier took 8 too. That was surprising. I'm not sure why he wouldn't try to keep his small time advantage over Milos but perhaps he wants to save dogs for a strong finish, a stage where he usually shines.
We know some people are looking at our team and wondering if we have taken too big a risk taking dogs that have been out of the race so far and some that we would choose to rest longer if we could. They could be right but Milos knows his dogs and he would also prefer to take a risk today than wait until tomorrow when, if things went wrong, he would be in the middle of a double stage.
I have mixed feelings. Looking at Slash and Balto they look good and Balto particularly has been ready to run for a while. The others look good too. Infact I would say it would have been a bigger risk to take some of our other, more tired dogs. This way, at least he has four fresh dogs out of the nine.
Now it's just to keep our fingers crossed. This stage could change everything for a number of teams.
A rather bad picture of Milos just a short while after the mass start consolidates into one lane.