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updated: 3/8/2014 2:07 PM

Zirkle retakes lead in Iditarod in run to coast

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  • Hugh Neff's dog team sleeps in the sun Thursday at the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

      Hugh Neff's dog team sleeps in the sun Thursday at the Cripple checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
    Associated Press/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen

 
Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A runner-up from the last two years and a four-time champion continued to play leapfrog Saturday at the head of the pack in the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Aliy Zirkle, who has finished in second place the last two years, left the Yukon River village of Kaltag at 3:18 a.m. Saturday to retake the lead from Martin Buser.

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Zirkle, 44, of Two Rivers, Alaska, paused only seven minutes at the Kaltag checkpoint before heading out on the 90-mile ride to Unalakleet, where teams turn north for the run to Nome along Alaska's wind-swept west coast.

The last championship for Buser, 55, the Swiss-born resident of Big Lake, Alaska, came in 2002. He has not finished in the top 10 since 2008, but he led most of Friday as teams made a 47-mile run on the wide Yukon River from Galena to Kaltag.

Buser reached Kaltag at 2 a.m. Saturday, covering the distance at an average speed of 10.6 mph. Zirkle was a little faster at almost 11 mph.

Buster rested his team for at Kaltag for three hours, 34 minutes, and left to pursue at 5:34 a.m. with 14 dogs, giving Zirkle a two-hour, 16 minute lead that could evaporate if she chose to rest along the trail.

Zirkle is down to a dozen dogs.

No woman has won the race since Susan Butcher in 1990.

Zirkle and her husband, Allen Moore, train dogs at Two Rivers, Alaska, 24 miles west of Fairbanks. Zirkle takes the top dogs for the Iditarod. Moore uses them in the Yukon Quest, the race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and has won it for two years in a row. Moore was in 35th place in the Iditarod with a secondary team Saturday.

Nicolas Petit of Girdwood, Alaska, was in third. He reached Kaltag at 6:56 a.m., rested just 18 minutes and left at 7:14, an hour and 45 minutes after Buser.

Two mushers with decades of experience followed later Saturday morning.

Sonny Lindner, 64, who has completed 18 Iditarods since 1978, reached Kaltag at 6:30 a.m., rested for two hours and departed at 8:32 a.m. The best finish for the Two Rivers musher was second in 1981.

Four-time champion Jeff King, 58, of Denali, Alaska, reached Kaltag at 8:23 a.m. He stayed just nine minutes and followed Lindner out at 8:32 a.m.

Unalakleet is 261 miles from the finish line in Nome.

The National Weather Service predicted mostly clear skies with lows of zero to 10 below and northeast winds 10 to 20 mph for eastern Norton Sound and the Nulato Hills north of Unalakleet.

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