The 2013 Iditarod is building to one of the closest finishes in the history of The Last Great Race, now in its 41st running. Race leader Mitch Seavey checked into the checkpoint of White Mountain at 5:11 a.m. local time Tuesday morning, and was followed by Aliy Zirkle just 13 minutes later. Jeff King, a four-time champion, arrived at 6:52 a.m. (complete standings).
Mushers are required to make an eight-hour stop in White Mountain, the final checkpoint before Safety and then the finish line in Nome. Seavey will be allowed to leave at 5:11 p.m. ET -- Zirkle will have the final 77 miles of the race to erase her 13-minute deficit.
"Mitch is up for a race, aren't ya?" Zirkle said to reporters -- and a nearby Seavey -- she finished feeding her dogs and prepared for a mandatory eight-hour rest at this village checkpoint.
"You calling me out?" Seavey said, heating water a few yards away. He was going to get his sneakers out for the finish, he joked.
Zirkle, last year's runner-up, made the run from Elim to White Mountain 35 minutes faster than Seavey, the 2004 winner, but will that speed be able to carry over to Tuesday afternoon?
"The first section of this trail here, I think I can be faster on hills than Mitch .. So I think I'll be faster on that section. But on the Flats, which is 40 miles after that, right into Nome, I can see where he might be a little faster in to there."
"I'm going to have to catch him early and get out ahead," she said.
Whereas Zirkle's speed has her eyeing an Iditarod win, it's been Seavey's patience that has him in a similar position. Seavey chose to rest at the Koyuk checkpoint for nearly four hours, while Jeff King ran through, trying to make it all the way to Elim without stopping. But when he couldn't, Seavey was able to catch -- and pass -- the four-time winner.
Soon to join the leaders in White Mountain is a group of nine mushers running up from Elim, led by Ray Redington, Jr., Dallas Seavey (son of Mitch) and Aaron Burmeister.
The run from White Mountain to Safety is along the coast of the Norton Sound, and historically can be one of the most dangerous stretches of the Iditarod Trail, with winds and storms always a threat. But this year seems to favor the mushers, with a forecast that is calling for a balmy high of 21 degrees and calm conditions. After Safety, it's just 22 miles to the finish in Nome.
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