Some might think strategy doesn't come into middle distance stage racing as much as it does the long distance races. But it does! Take stage 4 as an example. A flat 44km. Both Remy and Radek have faster dogs than ours, probably. Just a little ;-) They're certainly more houndy. But we hope we're better at the longer stages (although the other two won't be bad!). So, do you put your best, fastest team together or save your best dogs for a longer stage? Where are we likely to gain (or lose) more time? On a short stage there's less distance to lose time if you take slower dogs but with only a matter of minutes between the top three in the overall rankings we can't afford to lose anything.
The other thing to consider is that we have a bivouac stage coming up, the first of two. That means Milos and the team will camp out overnight. Milos will feed and look after the dogs on his own. He is very used to this, as are most of our dogs, but it's sensible to take dogs that can cope with this situation and will sleep. Dixie's in heat so perhaps she's not the best dog to take? She'll disrupt all the boys who will be going crazy all night. Button's fast but not the best eater and this will likely get worse if she camps out. Grony gets off her collar (but never goes anywhere, only to go be close to her yard buddy Patch) but it's not great for her to be wandering around loose with all the other dogs. Have we checked properly for stiffness and aching muscles and at what point won't they be able to run because of that?
All these kind of questions are asked and pondered over before and after every stage. Sometimes you get it right (stage 4 and 5) and sometimes you get it wrong (stage 3). You have to know your dogs inside and out and be able to pick up on small anomalies with their behaviour that strangers would miss. A great sled dog race vet once said the "dog just ain't doing right". It's one of the reasons we left Hannalore out of the team in stage 5 (yesterday) despite being a fast dog that's always up for running and good to motivate the team! She just didn't look quite right when we let her loose. She looked a bit stiff.
Now we're driving in the car to the start of the bivouac stage in Lanslebourg. It's about 38km today climbing to the Base Polaire where the mushers camp overnight. We start in last place (reverse order) at 17.46. The first LGO musher starts at 17.20. Yesterday saw the start of mushers doing a 3-day version of the race and they start before us.