German Sebastian Schnuelle retook the lead of the 2010 Iditarod somewhere between the checkpoints of Rohn and Nikolai early Tuesday morning, and was the first musher to reach Nikolai, a town of roughly just 100 people.
Schnuelle, 2009's runner-up, checked in at 1:47 p.m. ET with all 16 dogs, and was closely followed by 2004 winner Mitch Seavey (37 minutes behind) and four-time champion Jeff King (65 minutes back).
All three made speedy work of the Burn, which snowmachiners and race watchers had worried would challenge teams because of a lack of snow in some sections.
But King made the 80-mile run in eight hours, 27 minutes -- averaging nearly 9 mph on trail that got a dusting of light snow overnight, according to the National Weather Service. Seavey was slightly slower, while Schnuelle was 1 1/2 mph slower but may have stopped to rest his full team of 16 dogs en route.
Another group of eight mushers checked-in within an hour of each other, beginning with John Baker, just six minutes behind King. The winner of the past three races, Lance Mackey, checked in at 3:30 p.m. ET in eighth place, moving up eight spots during the run through Farewell Burn.
Of note: the current windchill in Nikolai is -21. Fun times. And this is still considered one of the more enjoyable stops on the route, because it offers the mushers a chance to rest ... on the comfort of high school wrestling mats.
Traditionally, mushers rest here about 6 hours, taking advantage of good food and comfortable wrestling mats set up in the public school gymnasium. But Mackey and others have broken that pattern in the last couple of years, taking off after four hours, or less. Schnuelle hinted he might do something like that while he massaged ointment into a few of his dogs' shoulders.
Next up is a boring 54-mile stretch to McGrath, which is best attacked at night, when the dogs will run faster.