MARQUETTE - The 25th running of the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association's U.P. 200 is set to begin at 7 tonight in downtown Marquette.
The mushers will take off with their sleds and exuberant, athletic dogs and head down Washington Street on their way to Grand Marais.
Troy Groeneveld of Two Harbors, Minn., who finished fourth last year and sixth in 2012, received the No. 1 bib to start first Thursday night at the pre-race banquet and bib draw at race headquarters, the YMCA of Marquette County.
Marquette Department of Public Works crews work this morning to prepare the downtown area for the start of the U.P. 200 and Midnight Run sled dog races tonight. (Journal photo by Sylvia Stevens)
"I wanted to be in the back," Groeneveld acknowledged. "I wanted these other guys to break trail for me."
However, he said the race will be fine for him.
"You just gotta have faith and keep going," said Groeneveld, whose team is Ten Squared Racing.
Groeneveld also pointed out the U.P. 200 is a professionally run race with a smooth start-to-finish course.
"I think the downtown start is awesome," he said.
Numerous cheering spectators line Washington Street as the dog teams take off down the chute to begin the 240-mile race, which leads to Grand Marais and ends Sunday back in Marquette.
"You enjoy coming here because of that," Groeneveld said of the festive beginning.
This year's U.P. 200 will be bittersweet for him, Groeneveld said, because it's his last year racing his dogs. He said he plans to spend more time with his family.
Jerry Trudell of Calumet and Sharks Came Racing drew the No. 1 bib for the 90-mile Midnight Run, which runs from Marquette to Chatham and back.
This will be his fifth Midnight Run, said Trudell, who also had mixed feelings about starting first.
"A lot of races, I think, when there's a lot of snow on the ground, you don't necessarily want to be the first team out," he said.
However, Trudell noted the U.P. 200 mushers will have traveled on the trail before the Midnight Run teams head out, plus being No. 1 allows him to run at his own pace with no passes.
Trudell, who finished fifth last year and second the year before, said of this year's Midnight Run race, "It's loaded. There are a lot of good teams this year.
He also said he likes the downtown start.
"It's just such a neat way to get the sport in front of the people," Trudell said.
Pat Torreano, UPSDA president, said 13 teams will take part in the U.P. 200 while 29 teams will participate in the Midnight Run.
She expressed an upbeat attitude for tonight's races.
"The trail's solid," Torreano said. "The trail's fine."
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.