As other top contenders press pause for mandatory break, Norwegian musher races into Iditarod ‘lead’

Aaron Peck tends to his dogs at the Nikolai checkpoint on Tuesday during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

As other title contenders rest in the cozy Takotna checkpoint (Mile 329), Norwegian musher Joar Leifseth Ulsom leaped ahead of the pack overnight at the front of Iditarod 2018.

#33, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Mo i Rana, Norway. (Bill Roth / ADN)

The 31-year-old musher, who has never finished outside of the top 10, blew through Ophir (Mile 352) at 4:52 a.m. Wednesday and headed along the southern route for the race namesake checkpoint of Iditarod.

Defending champ Mitch Seavey led the race into Takotna, where he has rested since 9:45 p.m. Tuesday and will likely take his mandatory 24-hour rest along with many other mushers who favor the homemade pies and burgers at the tiny hillside community.

Teams must take a daylong break somewhere along the trail, meaning that a true race leader will not emerge until those mandatory rests are finished. In other words: By Iditarod math, Seavey could be considered the "leader" as long as he is eating up his 24-hour rest and the racers ahead of him still have to take theirs.

Seavey reached Takotna hours ahead of any other musher and made the 18-mile  trip from McGrath 30 minutes faster than Ray Redington Jr., who was second to the checkpoint. Jessie Royer and Linwood Fiedler followed.

Leifseth Ulsom arrived fifth but spent just five minutes in Takotna before charging ahead to take the lead — and take his long rest later down the trail.

Watching the race's GPS tracker, the moderators of Leifseth Ulsom's official Facebook page noted that after Ophir the racer appeared to have made "a quick trip backwards, (possibly) to the checkpoint, but looks to be on his way forward again."

2016 Yukon Quest winner Hugh Neff has followed Leifseth Ulsom out of Takotna, leaving the checkpoint at 6:19 a.m.