02/06/2015 07:57 EST | Updated 04/08/2015 05:59 EDT

Yukon quest starts as it ended with dogged rivalry between two champs

WHITEHORSE - The first two mushers out of the chute at the Yukon Quest sled dog race Saturday in Whitehorse will — by the luck of the draw — be the same two who doggedly battled at the front of the pack for much of last year's marathon.

The placement of 2014 Quest champion Allen Moore as first to leave and Brent Sass as second stokes the fires of competition and reignites a long-standing rivalry.

"I like the sound of number one and two, I tell you that," Moore said after the Quest's start banquet Thursday evening.

"We always have a friendly rivalry, but I don't think it means that much in a 1,000-mile race, really." Moore said.

"But the trail's going to be the same whether you're the first musher or the last musher, because there's not much snow and it's a hard pack," he said, adding he expected a competitive race.

The race to Fairbanks, Alaska, takes about nine days to win, depending on weather and trail conditions.

Sass, 35, was racing neck-and-neck with Moore, 57, toward the race's final checkpoint last year when he fell and suffered a concussion. He appeared onstage with renewed purpose Thursday night.

"I kind of let (my dogs) down last year," said an emotional Sass. "But they're the strongest, best dogs I've ever had."

"I think it's great that Allen's out ahead of me. We've been battling it out for the last few years, and we'll battle it out again, along with plenty of others," he said in an interview later.

Sass had to withdraw from the 2014 race near Braeburn, forfeiting the four ounces of gold originally earmarked for him when he entered the race halfway point, Dawson City, in first place. Mushers need to complete the race to claim the gold.

He has placed among the top five three times since 2007.

Saturday's starting line will be bookended by champions, with 2012 winner Hugh Neff launching out of the chute last. He drew bib No. 26 in the lottery at the Yukon Convention Centre, which hosted the banquet.

"We all live for scooping poop everyday ... patting dogs' butts and smelling funky all the time. But more than what we're winning and trophies and all that sort of stuff, it's really about the spirit," said Neff.

Whitehorse musher Normand Casavant, who placed seventh in the 2013 Quest and may be Canada's best shot at a top-three finish, said he looked forward to a "rock 'n' roll" performance on the trail.

(Whitehorse Star)