Nicolas Petit appears to have his eye on the prize, not the pies.
The Girdwood musher grabbed the Iditarod lead on Tuesday night by mushing through Takotna, a checkpoint favored by mushers for its hospitality and fresh-baked pies.
Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers got there first, and had the place to herself for almost 90 minutes. Then Petit arrived, stayed for seven minutes, and left at 8:35 p.m., bound for Ophir.
Petit, 34, is one to watch. He placed sixth last year to earn the Most Improved Musher award. He earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2011 when he placed 28th, and finished 29th in 2012.
Aaron Burmeister, mushing despite a knee injury, joined Zirkle in Takotna at 8:45 p.m. and Robert Sorlie, a two-time winner, arrived at 9:24 p.m.
Of those four, Sorlie had the fastest run time from McGrath to Takotna -- he did it in 2 hours, 5 minutes. Zirkle made the run in 2:12, Burmeister in 2:17 and Petit in 2:27.
The race became somewhat of an afterthought on Tuesday, a day when treacherous trail conditions knocked nearly a dozen of mushers out of the Iditarod.
Stories of injured mushers and busted sleds dominated, but the night-time moves by Petit, Zirkle and others was a reminder that there's a race going on amid all the carnage.
Whether Petit is truly the race leader is debatable. He has yet to take his 24-hour mandatory layover, Monday's race leader -- four-time champion Martin Buser -- was poised to leave Nikolai shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday after completing his 24-hour break. When he does, he and Maixner will be the only mushers who are done with their daylong layovers.
The last two champions -- 2012 winner Dallas Seavey and his dad, defending champ Mitch, appear to be running together, at least for now. They left McGrath 10 minutes apary, with Dallas leading the way at 8:39 p.m.
A couple of contenders lingered in McGrath for a few hours before leaving late in the evening, a group led bby Jeff King at 9:35 p.m. Hans Gatt followed at 9:43 and Sonny Lindner at 9:55 p.m.
Lindner was the first to reach McGrath, arriving at 4:38 p.m. and collecting the PenAir Spirit of Alaska Award for being the first musher to that checkpoint. His prize includes a spirit mask and a $500 Pen-Air credit for freight or travel.
Zirkle was the second to reach McGrath, and she stole the lead from Lindner by pushing on to Takotna while Lindner stayed behind.
King was the third musher to reach McGrath. Among the frontrunnerst, he owned the fastest run time from Nikolai, doing it in 4:25. Sorlie had the second fastest Nikolai-to-McGrath time, 4:54.
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
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By BETH BRAGG