COVID is now ruining the greatest dog race in the world -- because the reigning Iditarod champ says travel restrictions are forcing him to bail on the 2021 event.
Thomas Waerner -- the musher who famously won the 2020 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race back in March -- says getting in and out of Alaska with his 16 dogs seems like an insurmountable task with the pandemic still wreaking havoc all over the world.
"I had to make the difficult decision to not start in the Iditarod 2021," Waerner said in a Facebook post.
"It is a lot of work to get to the starting line in a normal year, and in this COVID times it is not possible to get dogs and myself to Alaska."
The race is slated to begin on March 7 -- with mushers and their pooches trekking through 1,000 snow-covered miles to the finish line. There are still 57 mushers expected to compete, according to the AP.
Waerner -- who's from Norway -- famously won the event earlier this year ... but got stuck in Alaska for MONTHS after his victory due to travel restrictions. He finally caught a flight home in June.
As we previously reported, the 2020 event was highly criticized for allowing fans to gather in masses to watch the event without masks or any PPE. This year, organizers are taking the COVID issue much more seriously, bringing on a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases to help with the safety protocol.
As for Waerner, he dominated the 2020 race and adorably thanked his lead dogs -- K2 and Bark -- after crossing the finish line.
"This is awesome,'' Waerner said at the time ... "This is something special.''