Martin Buser has rocketed near the front of the pack early in Iditarod 42, mimicking a strategy he utilized last year that saw him sprint to an early lead.
Through Finger Lake early Monday morning, Buser led most of the mushers at the front of the pack by a comfortable half-hour margin, but the lead has shifted as mushers have now made it through Rainy Pass.
Buser posted some of the fastest times between checkpoints early on in the race, making the run from Yentna Station to Skwentna in 2 hours 38 minutes. (Most of the leading mushers spent north of three hours on the 30-mile route.) Buser was the first into Finger Lake this morning at 1:54 a.m., where he rested for 25 minutes at Finger Lake before leaving for Rainy Pass around 2:20 a.m., arriving at 5:42 this morning.
Hot on Buser’s runners, though, was fellow Big Lake musher Kelly Maixner, who spent just three minutes in Finger Lake before leaving at 2:49 a.m. Maixner was through Rainy Pass at 7:05 this morning, resting just eight minutes, leaving just 16 minutes of rest in his last 100 miles of trail.
Girdwood musher Nick Petit, meanwhile, was slowly ramping his dogs up to speed, posting even faster times than Buser into Rainy Pass. He was the second out of the checkpoint at 7:10 a.m., passing Buser.
Several other front-running mushers were also into Rainy Pass this morning. Mike Williams Jr. arrived just after 7 a.m. Williams was down to 14 dogs, having started with 15 (instead of the race maximum of 16) and dropping one dog in Finger Lake.
Outside the top four mushers is a pack of strong contenders racing into Rainy Pass this morning: Two Rivers musher Aliy Zirkle had a comfortable 15 minute lead out of Finger Lake when she left 5:06 this morning, blowing in front of Tok musher Hugh Neff and two-time Iditarod champ Robert Sorlie, who returns to the race for the first time in six years. Sorlie, like Buser, was posting sprint-race speeds in the early checkpoints.
Within an hour behind Zirkle out of Finger Lake were other strong contenders: Big Lake’s Cim Smyth, Fairbanks musher Paige Brodny, and four-time champ Jeff King.
The rest of the pack was resting in Finger Lake in Monday’s pre-dawn hours, including defending champ Mitch Seavey, currently in position 17, and 2011 champ and holder of the fastest time to Nome, Kotzebue’s John Baker in position 35.
The back of the pack were racing out of Skwentna and into Finger Lake, among them 2012 winner Dallas Seavey.