With Just Six Checkpoints Remaining, 2010 Iditarod Is A Two-Team Race

Lance Mackey, the three-time defending champion of the Iditarod, is the newest leader of the 2010 race, reaching the Shaktoolik checkpoint first. Right behind him is four-time champion Jeff King, who arrived just 37 minutes later.

Mackey took the lead from King at the Kaltag checkpoint, when Mackey did what Mackey does best -- ignore sleep and just keep racing.

Pulling into the checkpoint of Kaltag mid-Saturday, Mackey wanted to know two things: Did King, who was at that point of the race running ahead of Mackey, already leave? And if he did leave, did he take hay? Hay would mean he was planning to camp along the way, while leaving without it would signal he was planning a straight run for Unalakleet.

When Mackey learned King was still in the village, he stayed just seven minutes before moving on.

"It shouldn't be any real surprise to anybody that I just did that," said Mackey, noting that his trademark is to make long runs on minimal rest. "I am totally willing to gamble any time, any day."

But it's a gamble he practices for, often training his dogs at random times to help them become adjusted to the musher's unpredictable racing style. However, the question still remains whether or not his team will be able to keep going at this pace -- right now, Mackey is ahead of Martin Buser's record time.

"I have to go with what the dogs are wanting to do at the time," said Mackey, adding that in Nulato the team was charged up and ran out as though leading at the starting line.

King is skeptical Mackey can hold the lead. He thinks Mackey's team will fizzle as the race intensifies. And even if it doesn't there's always Plan B: cut time for resting.

The leaders are now racing along the coast of the Norton Sound, where temperatures are consistently below zero and hurricane-force winds and ground blizzards are common, with less than 200 more miles until the finish line in Nome.

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