NOME, Alaska (KTUU) - The first two finishers of the 2019 Iditarod are great buddies, despite maintaining a fierce rivalry.
"I would have been totally bummed out if he would have passed me coming in here," said newly-crowned Iditarod champion Pete Kaiser in Nome. "That's what we're here to do; We're not drawing straws to see who comes in first."
Second-place finisher Joar Leifseth Ulsom gave chase from White Mountain with a 41-minute gap that proved insurmountable. Ulsom said he didn't think he could catch Kaiser but, "I had fun doing it."
Though he didn't overcome the 41 minute difference, Leifseth Ulsom did reduce it to just 12 minutes by the time he reached the finish line.
"It's a weird dynamic when you're great friends with someone but you're also fierce competitors," said Kaiser.
In January, that friendly rivalry was on display after the Kuskokwim 300 with some leg wrestling battles at a post-race party. In a video shared with KTUU, Kaiser makes a dominant victory.
"Joar has really taken a beating now this last month," joked Kaiser. That friendly rivalry extended to the trail.
In the Elim Checkpoint, Ulsom arrived after Kaiser and said he wanted to go to sleep, leaving Kaiser with the chance to sneak out and further his lead. Instead, Kaiser asked Ulsom if he was planning to follow him out when he left - Ulsom said he would.
"Well, you better not take a nap, because I'm leaving," Kaiser said he told Leifseth Ulsom. The Norwegian musher quickly got dressed and followed him.
Despite having a sizable lead, Kaiser said it was "nerve-wracking" to have the defending Iditarod champion chasing him during the last 77-mile run from White Mountain to Nome.
"Knowing the type of driver he is and the type of team he has, I didn't count him out," said Kaiser.
The Bethel musher arrived under the burled arch at 3:39 a.m. to a cheering crowd. Just minutes later, as Kaiser was still in the finish chute, Ulsom's team pulled in as well.
The two men embraced in the chute as the friendliness between them seemed unaffected.
"I'm super happy he won it," said Ulsom with a genuine smile.
Ominously for Kaiser's Iditarod defense in 2020, Ulsom said he had run a young team in this year's Iditarod.
"We'll start again in August, train up a dog team again and run the race," Ulsom said.